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Antonio CALDARA (1670 - 1736): "Salve Regina - Music for the Praise of Mary"

Vokalakademie Berlin; Bassano Ensemble Berlin
Dir: Frank Markowitsch

rec: Feb 17 - 20, 2016, Berlin-Wilmersdorf, Lindenkirche
Rondeau - ROP6118 (© 2016) (64'07")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Ave maris stellacd; Crucifixus a 16; Haec est Regina virginuma; Laboravi in gemitu meofgj; Magnificat in C (arr Johann Sebastian BACH, 1685-1750; BWV 1082) (Suscepit Israel); Magnificat in d minor; Regina coeli laetare; Salve Reginah; Sonata for 2 violins and bc in e minor, op. 1,5; Stabat mater; Tenebrae factae suntbei

[VAB] Christina Andersson (soloa), Isabella Heiss, Eva-Maria Kösters, Yuki Nakashima (solob), Nathalie Seelig (soloc), Elisabeth Sturm, Carine Tinney, soprano; Bernadette Beckermann, Franziska Markowitsch (solod), Inga Philipp (soloe), Jenni Reineke (solof), Anna Smith, Lisa Weiss, contralto; Gasper Banovec, Michael Hofmeir, Martin Logar (solog), Robert Macfarlane (solohi), Daniel Steiner, tenor; Jonas Böhm (soloj), Julian Helms, Konstantin Ingenpass, Manfred Perthold, David Reimann, Christian Wagner, bass
[BEB] François Petitlaurent, cornett; Matthias Sprinz, Clemens Erdmann, sackbut; Adrian Rovatkay, bassoon; Daniel Deuter, Anna Fusek, violin; Monika Grimm, viola; James Bush, cello; Mirjam Wittulski, double bass; Magnus Andersson, theorbo; Elina Albach, harpsichord, organ

Antonio Caldara was one of the most prominent composers of his time. His position at the imperial court in Vienna reflects his status. His oeuvre is large but only a small part is available on disc and his name doesn't appear that often at concert programmes. Therefore a disc with sacred music from his pen is most welcome.

"This recording's collection of works in praise of Maria are not ordered according to the date of their composition; instead, they loosely trace the vita of Maria from the Magnificat to the Stabat mater", Susanne Fontaine writes in her liner-notes. The track-list doesn't give any dates of composition; it seems likely that in many cases these are not known but it is also possible that this is the result of the fact that Caldara's oeuvre has hardly been explored and is not catalogued. As is so often the case with the sacred oeuvre of Italian composers of the late 17th and early 18th centuries various styles coexist and are sometimes mixed within a single work.

The Magnificat which opens the programme is written in the stile antico: it is scored for eight voices in two choirs and bc. Although the cori spezzati technique was not confined to Venice, there can be little doubt that Caldara pays tribute here to a long tradition of the city where he was born. In this recording the voices are supported by instruments - strings and wind respectively - playing colla voce. This was a common practice in the 16th and early 17th centuries but I am not sure whether it still was in Caldara's time. In Regina coeli laetare the four-part choir is also supported by instruments. The Crucifixus is another piece in the polychoral style; it is part of a kind of Venetian tradition of setting this section from the Credo of the Mass in a highly expressive fashion through the use of strong dissonants and chromaticism. The most famous specimens of this practice are the various settings by another Venetian, Antonio Lotti. It is notable that Caldara splits the ensemble into four groups of equal voices: sopranos, altos, tenors and basses. It is seems right that here the participation of instruments is omitted; the voices are supported by basso continuo alone. The closing Stabat mater is another piece in the stile antico: it is for four voices and bc; some episodes are sung by solo voices but the track-list and the liner-notes don't make it exactly clear whether this is indicated by the composer. Here again instruments play colla voce: two violins, viola and two sackbuts.

A bit different is the motet Laboravi in gemitu meo, a setting of verses from Psalm 6, one of the seven penitential psalms which were especially sung during Holy Week. Its sombre character is emphasized by the omission of a soprano part: three solo voices - alto, tenor and bass - are supported by basso continuo in a piece whose text is illustrated by dissonants and chromaticism. This piece, the Crucifixus - if it is set as a separate piece - and the Stabat mater are for Passiontide, and so is Tenebrae factae sunt, one of the Responsories for Holy Week. Caldara's setting recorded here is for voices a cappella but three members of the vocal ensemble are mentioned as soloists. The track-list also indicates that a verse by Vincenzo Rastrelli (1760-1839) has been added, but the liner-notes don't give any information about this. In New Grove Rastrelli is identified as an Italian singing teacher and composer. I would have liked to know whether he himself has added something to Caldara's composition or whether this is an addition by the ensemble. In the former case it would tell us something about the reception of Caldara's music and about how long after his death it was still known and performed.

Other pieces in the programme are much more modern in style. Haec est Regina virginum is part of the first Vespers to the Feast of the Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel. Handel set this text in the form of a motet for soprano, strings and bc. Caldara also scores it for soprano solo, but here the accompaniment is confined to two violins and bc, suggesting a line-up of single instruments. Stylistically it is close to the motets which were written in the early decades of the 18th century by the likes of Handel and Vivaldi. The same goes for Ave maris stella, one of the four Marian antiphones. It is set as a duet for soprano and alto, with two violins and bc. The Salve Regina is quite operatic and includes quite some coloratura. It is notable that it is for tenor whereas most solo parts in both sacred and secular music were scored for high voices.

I already mentioned the issue of the reception of Caldara's music. One composer of a later generation and a different part of Europe who was interested in Caldara's music was Johann Sebastian Bach. The programme includes the 'Suscepit Israel' from Caldara's Magnificat in C which was arranged by Bach and is catalogued as BWV 1082. Bach added two violin parts to Caldara's score.

The programme is extended by a trio sonata from Caldara's opus 1, a set of twelve which were published in 1693 and clearly inspired by the trio sonatas of Arcangelo Corelli. Caldara follows the latter's model, also in the setting of the second movement in the form of a fugue. The cello has a more or less independent role which can likely be explained by the fact that Caldara was a professional cellist himself.

Although I have some doubts about a couple of decisions in regard to scoring - and in particular the use of instruments playing colla voce - I am generally enthusiastic about these performances. The Vokalensemble Berlin is a fine ensemble whose members are well able to take care of the solo parts which are sung beautifully. The playing of the Bassano Ensemble is good as well. All in all this disc offers an interesting survey of Caldara's music for the liturgy. One can only wish that in the near future his oeuvre will be taken more seriously and more of his compositions will appear on disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Vokalakademie Berlin
Bassano Ensemble Berlin

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