musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Antonio CALDARA (c1671 - 1736): "Caldara in Vienna - Forgotten castrato arias"

Philippe Jaroussky, alto
Vocanima Kölna; Concerto Köln
Dir: Emmanuelle Haďm

rec: July 12 - 19, 2010, Kempen, Paterskirche
Virgin Classics - 50999 648810 2 7 (© 2010) (68'08")

Achille in Sciro (1736): Se un core annodi (aria and chorus)a; Adriano in Siria (1732): Tutti nemici e rei (aria); Demofoonte (1733): Misero pargoletto (aria); Enone (1730): Vado, o sposa (aria); Ifigenia in Aulide (1718): Tutto fa nocchiero esperto (aria); L'Olimpiade (1733): Lo seguitai felice (aria); Mentre dormi amor fomenti (aria); La clemenza di Tito (1734): Numi assistenza - Opprimete i contumaci (rec and aria); Se mai senti spirarti sul volto (aria); Lucio Papirio dittatore (1719): Son io Fabio? - Troppo e insoffribile fiero martir (rec and aria); Scipione nelle Spagne (1722): O mi rendi il bel ch'io spero (aria); Temistocle (1736): Contrasto assai piů degno (aria); Non tremar, vassallo indegno (aria)

There is much talk about social networks being the feature of modern society. But there is hardly anything new about that. It is a phenomenon which was also of high importance in the 17th and 18th centuries, when musicians were constantly looking for jobs. The Italian composer Antonio Caldara's biography bears witness to that as we shall see.

Not much is known about his early years, but he seems to have been born in Venice and probably received his first music lessons from his father. He learned to play the viola da spallo - today mostly replaced by the cello - and entered the orchestra of the San Marco, but made a career as a composer of vocal music, in particular operas. His first compositions in this genre as well as some oratorios were performed in Venice.

He then went to Mantua, where he was appointed maestro di cappella da chiesa e del teatro. The Duke of Mantua was an ardent lover of opera and was willing to spend a lot of money on opera productions. When he was financially ruined after the War of the Spanish Succession Caldara moved to Rome where he acted as maestro di cappella of Prince Ruspoli from 1709 to 1716. But he had set his eyes on a position at the imperial court in Vienna.

In the liner-notes of this disc Frédéric Delaméa describes at length the splendour and the rich musical culture at the Court. It is no wonder many composers hoped to work there one day. Caldara persistently tried to find a way to be appointed in some position at the court. The first contacts with the later Emperor Charles VI date from the time he spent in Barcelona, where Charles - then still Archduke Charles III - married Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. Later Caldara went to Milan in an attempt to meet Charles again, who was on his way to Frankfurt to be crowned emperor as successor of his brother Joseph I. Whether this led to anything isn't clear. Then Caldara travelled to Vienna, but when he arrived the positions he had set his eyes on were already assigned. In the next years he continously applied for jobs at Court, but was mostly too late - not surprising in a time of slow communication.

In the meantime he dedicated several compositions to the emperor and his wife, and there is no doubt that Charles had a strong liking for Caldara's music. In the end Caldara's persistency paid off. In 1716 he left Rome for Vienna, where he should take up the position of vice Kapellmeister under Johann Joseph Fux and first court composer. In this capacity he was responsible for the composition of operas and other vocal works, not only for regular performances at the Hoftheater, but also at special occasions like birthdays and namedays of the Emperor and Empress. Charles VI was an ardent lover of music, as his predecessors had been, and that had resulted in a musical infrastructure which was second to none in Europe.

Caldara could rely on one of Europe's main librettists, Apostolo Zeno, who would later be succeeded by the famous Pietro Mestastasio. He also had some of the best singers of Europe at his disposal. A number of major roles in his early compositions in Vienna were taken by the castrato Gaetano Orsini whose voice was described by Charles Burney as powerful and affecting. Later on Caldara wrote important parts in his operas for another castrato, Felice Salimbeni, who was a pupil of Niccolo Porpora and was to become one of the most celebrated singers of his time. Occasionally other singers whose names figure prominently in music history books were also participating in performances in Vienna. These included the castrato Farinelli and the soprano Faustina Bordoni who in 1730 married another famous opera composer, Johann Adolf Hasse.

This disc offers arias from operas which were written at several stages of Caldara's career in Vienna. Ifigenia in Aulide dates from 1718 and was Caldara's second opera in Vienna. The aria 'Tutto fa nocchiero esperto' has a solo part for the violin and contains some very long melismas which, according to historical accounts, castratos were able to sing in the same breath. The part of Teucros for whom this aria was written, was very likely realised by Gaetano Orsini. Temistocle dates from Caldara's last year. It was first performed in October and revived in December, only a couple of weeks before his death on 27 December. The two brilliant arias recorded here were assigned to Xerxes, a role sung by Felice Salimbeni. The programme shows great variety: there are some intimate arias, for instance the beautiful sleep aria 'Mentre dormi amor fomenti' from L'Olimpiade, in which the strings are joined by two recorders. From Adriano in Siria comes the rage aria 'Tutti nemici e rei'. All these arias are highly expressive in their own way, but some really stand out, like 'Vado, o sposa' from Enone, and 'Se mai senti spirarti sul volto' from Le clemenza di Tito. These more lyrical arias suit Philippe Jaroussky best. The rage arias are just a little less convincing, because Jaroussky's voice lacks sharp edges, in particular at low notes. On the other hand, in 'Tutti nemici e rei' he shows his dramatic instinct by keeping his rage in check in the A part and subtly turning it up a notch in the dacapo.

The combination of Philippe Jaroussky and Concerto Köln under the direction of Emmanuelle Haďm is a happy one. The singing is a pure delight, and Concerto Köln fully explores the instrumental scores which are remarkable for their depth and density. Charles VI had a strong liking for counterpoint, and in his operas Caldara successfully mixed Italian and German elements. There is just one point of criticism with respect to the performance of the aria 'Mentre dormi amor fomenti'. Here the recorders mostly play colla parte with the strings. In the dacapo Ms Haďm makes the strings play pizzicato, which turns the recorders into solo instruments. That seems contrary to Caldara's intentions.

In his personal note in the booklet Philippe Jaroussky writes that "I hope that the modest selection of arias assembled here will provide you with a glimpse into the art of this great master". That mission has certainly been accomplished.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Concerto Köln

CD Reviews