musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Italian cantatas and duets

[I] "Et in Arcadia ego"
Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli, sopranoa
Concerto Stella Matutina
Dir: Christoph Hammer
rec: May 16, 2013 (live), Götzis (A), Kulturbühne Ambach
fra bernardo - fb 1312333 (© 2013) (58'39")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713): Sonata a 4 in D (WoO 4); Francesco GASPARINI (1668-1727): Pecorelle correte, cantata da cameraa; George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Il delirio amoroso (HWV 99) (introduzione; Per te lascia la luce, ariaa; Lascia omai le brune vele, ariaa); La Resurrezione (HWV 47), oratorio (Disserratevi, aria)a; Alessandro MARCELLO (1669-1747): Concerto III in b minor; Benedetto MARCELLO (1686-1739): Senza gran pena, cantata enarmonicaa; Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725): Il Martirio di Santa Teodosia, oratorio (Son pronta all'offese, aria; Non racchiudo nel seno - Se il Cielo, rec & aria)a; Giuseppe TORELLI (1658-1709): Sinfonia in D; Giuseppe VALENTINI (1681-1753): Concerto in D

Shai Kribus, Benedicte Wodey, oboe; Herbert Walser-Breuß, Bernhard Lampert, trumpet, corno da caccia; Silvia Schweinberger, Susanne Mattle, Angelika Treml-Hofko, Daniela Fischer, Ingrid Loacker, Fani Vovoni, Ruth Konzett, violin; Johanna Sensi-Gamerith, Julia Beller, viola; Thomas Platzgummer, cello; Barbara Fischer, violone; Thor-Harald Johnsen, theorbo; Christoph Hammer, harpsichord; Johannes Hämmerle, organ

[II] George Frideric HANDEL (1685 - 1759): "Duetti da Camera"
Roberta Invernizzi, soprano; Marina de Liso, mezzo-soprano
La Risonanza
Dir: Fabio Bonizzoni
rec: Nov 3 - 6, 2013, Milan, Auditorium Gruppo 24 Ore
Glossa - GCD 921516 (© 2014) (64'43")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

A mirarvi io son intento (HWV 178); Beato in ver chi può (HWV 181); Conservate, raddoppiate (HWV 185); Fronda leggiera e mobile (HWV 186); Langue, geme, sospira (HWV 188); No, di voi non vuo' fidarmi (HWV 190); Se tu non lasci amore (HWV 193); Sono liete, fortunate (HWV 194); Tanti strali al sen mi scocchi (HWV 197); Troppo cruda, troppo fiera (HWV 198)

Caterina dell'Agnello, cello; Craig Marchitelli, archlute, theorbo; Fabio Bonizzoni, harpsichord

The chamber cantata was one of the most popular forms of musical entertainment in the baroque era. That was especially the case in Italy where this kind of pieces were performed during the gatherings - conversazioni - of the academies which were active across Italy from around 1700. The first was founded in 1690 in Rome, the 'Arcadian Academy'. The first disc focuses on music which is connected to the Arcadian world, inhabited by shepherds and shepherdesses, nymphs and hunters, and filled with meadows, brooks and groves. That doesn't result in music of an exclusively idyllic character. The life in Arcadia has its dark sides, as many cantatas show. Unhappy love or the fickleness of the beloved are the subjects of many cantatas. Words as "lamenting", "torment" and "cruelty" often crop up in their texts. Such words are often singled out and composers use harmony to express the sadness of a text.

One of the most striking examples is the cantata Senza gran pena by Benedetto Marcello. The first line of the opening recitative says it all: "Only great pain can accompany the end of unhappy love" and the ensuing aria says "In the midst of woe all hope sinks low, I cannot believe it will rise up again". It is a so-called enharmonic cantata which means - in the then common meantone temperament - that there is a difference between, for instance, C sharp and D flat. This difference is used for expressive reasons and has a striking effect here.

Although almost all the composers represented in the programme were members of the Arcadian Academy of Rome, not all the music recorded here is specifically connected to the world of Arcadia. That is especially the case with the extracts from the two oratorios by Alessandro Scarlatti and George Frideric Handel respectively. However, if the title of this disc is not interpreted too strictly, their inclusion can be justified on stylistic grounds: there is a strong connection between the chamber cantata and opera - many cantatas were a kind of pocket-size operas - and there was also little difference between opera and oratorio. La Resurrezione is the only oratorio which Handel composed in Italy and was performed in Rome. Alessandro Scarlatti was one of the main composers of oratorios at the time, and Handel surely must have known his work.

In the gatherings of the Arcadian Academies not only vocal music was performed. Whether the instrumental music which has been recorded here was also played is impossible to say, but it gives some idea of the kind of music which was composed at the time. Especially interesting is the Sonata a 4 by Corelli, the only piece from his pen with a part for a wind instrument. The Sinfonia in D by Giuseppe Torelli includes two trumpet parts; Torelli worked most of his life in Bologna which was the main centre of trumpet playing and composing in Italy. Giuseppe Valentini worked in Rome and rivalled Corelli as a violin virtuoso. Alessandro Marcello was from Venice and a member of the Academy there. In his instrumental works woodwind instruments play a notable role.

I am quite happy with the performances of Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli and Concerto Stella Matutina. Ms Mazzulli deals impressively with the texts, eloquently singles out some words and phrases and effectively colours her voice. The strong contrast between "contenti" and "tormenti" in the aria 'Se il Cielo' from Scarlatti's oratorio Il martirio di Santa Theodosia, for instance, is fully explored. She sings the recitatives with the required rhythmic freedom. Sometimes the trills are not perfect and now and then the top notes sound a bit stressed, especially in some ornamentation. However, these are minor issues which didn't spoil my enjoyment of her interpretations. The ensemble delivers colourful interpretations of the instrumental works.

The second disc is devoted to a genre which was quite popular at the time, but is today more or less overshadowed by the chamber cantata: the duetto da camera. Handel's contributions to the genre were strongly influenced by Agostino Steffani, the most celebrated composer of duets of his time. Handel met him in Rome, where he also participated in the meetings of the Arcadian Academy, although he never became a member. It is quite likely that some of his duets were performed during these conversazioni.

There is a clear difference between duetti da camera and cantate a due. The latter are a kind of pocket-size operas in which two different characters are involved in a dialogue, and usually also include recitatives. This lends them a dramatic character. The duetti da camera have their roots in the madrigals for two voices which were written in the 17th century, for instance by Monteverdi and Barbara Strozzi. They are a mixture of counterpoint and text expression, and the involvement of two singers gives the opportunity to create harmonic tension which fits the feelings of the only protagonist. Because of that they have a dramatic power of their own, different from that of chamber cantatas and operas.

Handel composed 21 duets, the earliest during his stay in Italy. He continued his composition of duets in Hanover and then in England. They became quite popular and belonged to the small part of his oeuvre which remained to be performed after his death. Handel must have liked them as well, because he borrowed fragments from almost any duet for instrumental and vocal works. The liner-notes to this Glossa disc include indications of these borrowings.

Most duets are for soprano and alto which are accompanied by basso continuo alone. They mostly comprise three sections of a contrasting character which depict the conflicting emotions of the protagonist. One of the most abrupt changes of mood comes in Se tu non lasci amore in which the second section follows the first attacca. Tanti strali is one of the most famous, and rightly so, because of its particularly dramatic character. In Troppo cruda the closing word "sospirar" delivers an eloquent example of word painting as it includes various pauses.

The dramatic aspects come off perfectly in the interpretation of Roberta Invernizzi and Marina de Liso who are a good match and whose voices blend ideally. They are both able to sing long lines without any vibrato, for instance in the closing section of Troppo cruda. They always receive the appropriate support from Caterina Dell'Agnello, Craig Marchitelli and Fabio Bonizzoni. Let us hope that the remaining duets will be recorded by Bonizzoni in due course.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

Concerto Stella Matutina
La Risonanza

CD Reviews