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"Salve Regina - Sacred Music from Naples"

Mary-Ellen Nesi, mezzosopranoa; Catherine Jones, cellob
Il Complesso Barocco
Dir: Alan Curtis

rec: Dec 18 - 20, 2008, Lonigo, Villa San Fermo
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88697 53944 2 ( 2009) (78'03")

Leonardo LEO (1694-1744): Concerto for cello, strings and bc in d minorb; Salve Regina in c minora; Salve Regina in Fa; Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736): Salve Regina in a minora; Salve Regina in c minora; Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725): Salve Regina in c minora

The Salve Regina is one of the most used texts for compositions in the history of Western music. The reason is that it belongs to the core of the Roman Catholic liturgy. It is one of the four Marian antiphons which are sung at different seasons in the liturgical calender. The Salve Regina is sung in the time from Trinity Sunday to Advent. It is not quite clear who the author is, but it seems to have its origin in the circles of the Cistercians.

In particular during the renaissance numerous settings of this text were written. The composers whose settings are performed on this disc have moved far away from these polyphonic compositions. But with the compositional means of their time they created highly expressive compositions, as this disc shows.

The Salve Regina was often scored for solo voice, strings and bc. This offered the opportunity to express the text precisely, using all the devices composers of the baroque had at their disposal. The compositions on this disc are all from Italy, and by Neapolitan composers. The oldest is Alessandro Scarlatti, and his setting features a strong connection between text and music. He makes use of chromaticism and Seufzer to express the text.

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi is best known for his Stabat mater which was not universally approved as some felt it was too operatic. His two settings of the Salve Regina are a bit different. The version in a minor is the oldest, and strangely enough it is also the most galant of the two. In comparison the later version, in c minor, which Pergolesi composed shortly before his death, is more leaning towards Scarlatti, as he makes use of polyphony, and in particular of dissonances to express the text.

Leonardo Leo was one of the main composers of music for the theatre in Naples. That has left its mark in his settings of the Salve Regina which are performed here. They include many coloratura passages, often used to underline key words of the text, like "dulcedo" and "clamamus", and cadenzas. Although the texture of these two settings are highly similar, in some ways they are different. The setting in F is generally the most virtuosic. But in both compositions the solo part shows many similarities to opera.

The settings by Leo on the one hand and those by Scarlatti and Pergolesi on the other hand are separated by the Concerto for cello, strings and bc in d minor by Leo. Although he was mainly an opera composer, today it is his cello concertos he is most famous for. There are several recordings with cello concertos by Leo on the market, and this concerto belongs to the better-known.

It is this concerto which is the best part of this disc. In particular Catherine Jones delivers a very good and engaging interpretation. Il Complesso Barocco is also doing rather well here. But the vocal items are less convincing. And that is partly due to the lacklustre and bland playing of Il Complesso Barocco. The string parts contain many figures which are no less expressive than the vocal part, but Alan Curtis doesn't make enough of that. There is too little dynamic shading and the rhetorical figures is given too little attention.

The vocal part isn't really convincing either. Mary-Ellen Nesi is experienced in opera, and although there are similarities between the style of these compositions and opera these settings of the Salve Regina require more attention being given to the text. And that is where Mary-Ellen Nesi fails to live up to. An important tool like the messa di voce is hardly used, whereas so many words in these settings almost beg for it. Dynamic accents are too often missing, vibrato is too often used.

The general lack of differentiation makes this disc not as enthralling as the repertoire promises. This recording could have been much better.

Johan van Veen ( 2010)

Relevant links:

Mary-Ellen Nesi
Il Complesso Barocco

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