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Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660 - 1725): Secular vocal music

[I] "Clori, Ninfa e Amante - Arias & Cantatas"
Renata Fusco, voice; Massimo Lonardi, archlute; Lorenzo Micheli, theorbo, guitar; Matteo Mela, guitar
rec: Sept 7 - 9, 2011, Nomaglio (Turin), S. Bartolomeo Apostolo
Stradivarius - Str 33910 ( 2013) (47'47")
Liner-notes: E/I; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

Alessandro SCARLATTI: Gli equivoci nel sembiante, opera (Un amante che pianger non vuole, aria; Onde, ferro, fiamme e morte, aria; Lasciami sola a piangere, aria; Tal io, misera amante, rec; Al dispetto del sospetto, aria; Cieli, voi che ognor vedete, aria); Il rosignuolo, cantata; La principessa fedele, opera (sinfonia; Scherzo fui dela procella, aria); Tu parti, idolo amato (Cantata di lontananza); Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757): Sonata in e minor (K 81)

[II] "Rosinda ed Emireno - Arias & Duets from the opera 'L'Emireno' (Naples, 1697)"
Alice Borciani, soprano; Alex Potter, alto
Musica Fiorita
Dir: Daniela Dolci
rec: June 3 - 7, 2012, Basel, Kapelle Adullam
Pan Classics - PC 10303 ( 2014) (60'44")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Giovanni LEGRENZI (1626-1690): Sonata La Mosta [1]; Sonata La Pia [1]; Sonata La Rosetta [1]; Sonata La Spilimberga [1]; Giacomo Antonio PERTI (1661-1756): Penelope la casta, opera (Va scherzando, aria); Alessandro SCARLATTI: L'Emireno, opera (exc)

[1] Giovanni Legrenzi, Sonate a 2, 3, 5, & 6, libro terzo, 1663

Bork-Frithjof Smith, cornett; Katharina Heutjer, Miki Takahashi, violin; Jonathan Pesek, cello; Brigitte Gasser, viola da gamba, lirone; Juan Sebastian Lima, theorbo; Daniela Dolci, harpsichord

Alessandro Scarlatti is one of the key figures in Italian - and in various ways also European - music history. He established a reputation as a composer of operas, cemented the form of the chamber cantata and in his oratorios he moved into the direction of opera. Two of the main genres to which he contributed are represented on the present disc.

Gli equivoci nel sembiante is the second work for the theatre from Scarlatti's pen and the earliest which has survived. It was first performed in February 1679 in a private theatre in Rome. It enjoyed great success as the various revivals in Bologna, Naples and Venice show. Five arias and a recitative from this opera are performed on the Stradivarius disc. The arias, three of them with basso continuo alone, are rather short, and only some reflect the early stage of the dacapo form. In some arias the singer and the basso continuo are joined by two treble parts. These are almost certainly intended for violins, but here they are performed with plucked instruments. According to Lorenzo Micheli, in his liner-notes, this was a widespread practice at the time. Unfortunately he doesn't give much historical evidence for this statement. He only refers to the theorist Severo Bonini (1582-1663) who states that Monteverdi's Lamento d'Arianna was performed "in every house in which there were harpsichords or theorbos present". I fail to see how this could prove anything as this Lamento is set for solo voice and basso continuo.

With the opera La principessa fedele we have arrived at a much later stage of Scarlatti's career as it dates from 1710. The overture is performed here as an introduction to the whole programme and repeated at the end, followed by the dacapo aria 'Scherzo fui della procella'. The overture is again played by plucked instruments. In between we hear two of Scarlatti's more than 600 chamber cantatas. Il rosignuolo dates from 1698, Tu parti, idolo amato (Cantata da lontananza) from 1702, both for solo voice and basso continuo.

Renata Fusco has a nice voice and sings quite well, but even so I am not really satisfied with her performance. I have never heard her before, and therefore don't know exactly how her voice sounds. It seems that she sings here almost every time at sotto voce; only at some moments, for instance in the aria 'Cieli, voi che ognor vedete' from Gli equivoci nel sembiante, she sings with more firmness. Her singing reminds me of Marco Beasley's, and that has its charm, but whether that is suited for this repertoire is questionable. It is probably telling that her voice is not specified in the booklet. The omission of any translation of the lyrics in the booklet makes it virtually impossible to decide whether this approach is suitable here. For the same reason it is not possible to assess how Ms Fusco deals with the texts. The playing of the plucked instruments is excellent: the treble parts are performed with much flair and the rhythmic pulse comes off very well. However, I would like to see more firm evidence for this practice in Scarlatti's time.

The programme is interspersed by one of the many sonatas by Alessandro's son Domenico. Most of these are for keyboard, but a handful suggest a performance as sonatas for a melody instrument and basso continuo. Here the upper part is played at the baroque guitar, and it sounds very nice this way.

Those who have a special interest in the oeuvre of Alessandro Scarlatti will be keen to add this disc to their collection. Especially the arias from his earliest extant opera are interesting. But as the interpretations are not entirely satisfactory the average music lover should probably look elsewhere if he wishes to add a disc with vocal music by Scarlatti to his collection. The short playing time also doesn't speak in its favour. The second disc is devoted to a single work. Rosinda ed Emireno is not a cantata nor an opera, but rather the title given by Daniela Dolci to a selection of recitatives and arias from the opera L'Emireno which was premiered in Naples in 1697. The plot is too complicated to summarize here, but that is also not really relevant as we can follow here only the fortunes of two characters, Rosinda and Emireno. The opera comprises recitatives and arias; some of the latter have a dacapo. The instrumental ensemble in operas from this time is mostly rather small; here it contains of two violins and basso continuo, plus a wind instrument: the cornett. Its involvement is rather surprising. It was very popular in the 16th and the first half of the 17th century. In particular in the first decades of the 17th century much solo music for the cornett was written, often very virtuosic. In this respect it was a direct rival of the violin. However, the level of playing gradually deteriorated during the second half of the century, and towards the turn of the century it had become almost completely obsolete. In San Marco in Venice, for instance, the cornetts were replaced by oboes in the 1690s. In his liner-notes Rodolfo Zitellini states that the cornett is used in arias of a pathetic nature, and that this role was given to the oboe in later times. But in the first aria with an obbligato cornett the text refers to the nightingale, and in such cases composers often used the recorder or the transverse flute. At the time this opera was written flute and oboe had not yet established themselves in Italy, but the recorder was very common, and one wonders why Scarlatti did not use it here.

The music is excellent, and on the basis of these excerpts I dare to say that this opera deserves to be performed and recorded complete. In this respect a disc like this is an appetizer, but also a bit of a missed opportunity. The operas by Alessandro Scarlatti are not well represented on disc anyway, certainly not in comparison with his oratorios. That said, we should welcome this disc. However, this project leaves me a little unsatisfied for several reasons.

Firstly, the way it has been worked out leaves something to be desired. The excerpts from Scarlatti's operas are interspersed by sonatas from the pen of Giovanni Legrenzi, a composer of an earlier generation. Zitellini justifies this by saying that "the delicate intimacy of these sonatas is a musical meditation on the events that enroll." There is another reason, though, as Daniela Dolci reveals in her notes on the performance. The programme of this disc was first performed live, and at that occasion the opera was presented under the name of Giacomo Perti, as a copy of this opera in the Austrian National Library mentions him as its composer. In that case the connection had much more logic: Legrenzi dedicated his sonatas op. 8 to Lorenzo Perti, Giacomo's uncle. It was only after the concert - preceded by the CD recording - that Ms Dolci came into contact with Zetellini which resulted in the discovery that this opera was in fact from Scarlatti's pen. That way the connection to Legrenzi's sonatas loses its logic. Obviously the programme of the CD recording couldn't be changed, but the inclusion of these sonatas is rather unfortunate anyway - at least, that is how I experienced it. It is also rather odd that one of the arias from the third act is sung at an earlier stage.

The liner-notes also contain some inconsistencies. There is mentioning of three arias with an obbligato part for cornett, but I have heard four, plus the inserted aria by Perti (the inclusion of which is rather odd in itself). Zitellini writes that the two roles were both scored for soprano, and that for this recording "we opted for a complete inversion of roles, with Alex Potter in the role of Rosinda/Orminta and Alice Borciani as Emireno". But, if they are both for soprano, who cares? That is different as they are for two contrasting voice types, such as is the case here. This is all a bit mysterious, just like the reference to Potter singing also the role of Orminta: the libretto in the booklet doesn't mention this character as a protagonist at all. However, the liner-notes tell us that the first aria is sung by Orminta whereas the libretto mentions here Emireno, and the aria is sung by Alice Borciani. I can't make anything of this.
I also don't understand why a production aimed at the international market includes only German translations of the lyrics, omitting English translations.

Despite all these flaws it would be a mistake to ignore this disc. The music is great, like I said, and so is the singing and playing, Alice Borciani and Alex Potter make the most of Scarlatti's music, and the ensemble plays with zest and dramatic flair. If you are a lover of Alessandro Scarlatti's music you shouldn't miss this recording.

Johan van Veen ( 2014)

Relevant links:

Alice Borciani
Alex Potter
Lorenzo Micheli
Musica Fiorita

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