musica Dei donum
Philippe Jarousskya; Max Emanuel Cencicb, alto
Les Arts Florissants
Dir: William Christie
rec: Jan 19 - 23, 2011, Paris, Salle Colonne
Virgin Classics - 070943 2 (© 2011) (74'21")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover & track-list
Giovanni BONONCINI (1670-1747):
Chi d'amor tra le catene, duetto da camera (Chi d'amor tra le catene; Bella s`, ma crudel) 
Pietoso nume arcier, duetto da cameraab;
Francesco Bartolomeo CONTI (1681/82-1732):
Quando veggo un'usignolo, cantata a due soprani con istromenti (Quando veggo un'usignolo, aria ą 2)ab;
Francesco MANCINI (1672-1737):
Quanto mai saria pił bello, cantata a voce sola di sopranoa;
Benedetto MARCELLO (1686-1739):
Chiaro e limpido fonte, cantata ą 2;
Tirsi e Fileno, cantata ą 2 (Veggio Fille/Parlo a Clori, duetto)ab;
Nicola Antonio PORPORA (1686-1768):
Ecco che il primo albore, cantata a voce sola con violinib;
Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725):
Amore e Virtł, cantata ą 2 (Nel cor del cor mio, duetto)
 Giovanni Bononcini, Duetti da camera, op. 8, 1691
Hiro Kurosaki, Catherine Girard, violin;
Jonathan Cohen, cello;
Elizabeth Kenny, lute, theorbo;
William Christie, harpsichord, organ
Discs with solo cantatas and arias from operas regularly appear. In comparison discs with duets are relatively rare. That is surprising as duets often belong to the best composers have written. That is certainly the case with George Frideric Handel: the duets in his operas and oratorios belong to the most expressive part of his oeuvre. This disc shows that other composers also played their mastercard in this genre.
Like chamber cantatas the duets on the programme of this disc were usually sung in the academies, gatherings of aristocrats who met artists and scholars of various kinds to discuss and to enjoy music. Thousands of chamber cantatas were written - Alessandro Scarlatti alone composed more than 700. The number of duets is much smaller, which is probably due to the fact that they were harder to perform. In the liner-notes Susanne Kessler states that cantatas may even have been written during this kind of gatherings and then been performed by whoever was at hand. It is possible that this was much more difficult with duets as they required some extra skills, in particular the ability to adapt the voices to each other, for instance in regard to dynamics and ornamentation. That is also the challenge of the two singers on this disc.
Duets offered composers additional possibilities in harmony and the use of polyphony. The very first piece on this disc, Pietoso nume arcier by Giovanni Bononcini, is an impressive specimen of the use of polyphony for expressive reasons, especially the opening duet, which is followed by a recitative and another duet. One of the most brilliant works on the programme is the aria ą 2 which opens the duet cantata Quando veggo un'usignolo by Bartolomeo Conti. The protagonists compare themselves with a nightingale. "When I see a nightingale flying free as air, I say to myself: such is my heart". "When I see a nightingale with its foot fast in a trap, I say to myself: such is my heart". Both singers depict the singing and the flying of the nightingale, and the obbligato violin does the same. The result is an intricate web of imitation and 'special effects' to which William Christie adds some of his own at the organ.
In this duet we meet two characters, Clori and Irene. That is the case in most duet cantatas, like Bononcini's Pietoso nume arcier (Dorinda and Aldimira) and in Benedetto Marcello's cantatas Tirsi e Fileno and Chiaro limpido fonte. The latter is unusually long, opening with two pairs of recitative and aria for the two respective characters, Silvio and Mirtillo, followed by two pair of recitative ą 2 and duet. The various pieces reflect the different ways in which the composers connect the voices to each other, which also depends on their respective range. Unfortunately that is not always indicated in the tracklist, but in most cases Jaroussky sings the soprano part and Cencic the alto part. That is for instance the case in Tirsi e Fileno, but in Amore e Virtł by Alessandro Scarlatti both vocal parts move in the soprano range. It is characterised by polyphony, and as it is the last piece of the programme this disc ends as it started.
Also included are two solo cantatas. Quanto mai saria pił bello is a typical exponent of the baroque chamber cantata in the tradition which was established by Alessandro Scarlatti. A recitative is framed by two dacapo arias; the scoring is soprano and bc. It is the perfect vehicle for Philippe Jaroussky, with his light and agile voice. The composer, Francesco Mancini, is not that well-known today for his vocal music, unlike in his own time. This cantata makes curious for more of his vocal works. The other solo cantata is by Nicola Antonio Porpora, like Mancini from Naples, and especially famous as a singing teacher. Ecco che il primo albore is more dramatic than Mancini's cantata. It begins with a sinfonia for two violins and bc, which is followed by an accompanied recitative which ends in a passage with coloraturas. Max Emanuel Cencic has the more dramatic voice of the two, and this cantata suits him very well.
The difference in voice types made me wonder whether this project of duets would work. But to my pleasant surprise it does so quite well. The differences make it easy to tell them apart, but at the same time they are able to adapt their voices to each other. In most cases the balance between them is quite good, only now and then I felt that Jaroussky was a bit dominating. The recitatives are taken with the right amount of rhythmic freedom. The playing of Les Arts Florissants is wonderful, and the players are fully incorporated in the expression of the text.
To sum up, this is a very fine disc, which reveals the beauty of the duets written by Italian composers of the 18th century. One can only hope that singers discover this genre, and that more discs with duets will be recorded.
Johan van Veen (© 2012)
Max Emanuel Cencic
Les Arts Florissants