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Concert reviews

Tomaso Albinoni/Nicola Porpora/Giovanni Porta/Antonio Vivaldi et al: Andromeda liberata, serenata in 2 parts

Katerina Beranova (Cassiope), Simone Kermes (Andromeda), soprano; Max Emanuel Cencic (Perseo), alto; Marijana Mijanovic (Meliso), contralto; Enrico Onofri (Daliso), tenor
Venice Baroque Orchestra
Dir: Andrea Marco
concert: Utrecht, December 6, 2004

When at the start of the concert season I saw the announcement of a performance of the serenata 'Andromeda liberata by Vivaldi' I tried everything to keep that night free, as I was looking forward to hear it. Only a month later I noticed the release of the recording of that same piece with the same performers on Archiv. Normally I hate it when musicians come to play the programme which is also on CD and available in every music shop. But in this case I didn't regret it, as the cast wasn't entirely the same as on CD and as the question about the authorship of this serenata caused quite a stir.

That Vivaldi has composed all of it nobody believes, but how large exactly the part of Vivaldi in the composition of this serenata has been is a matter of controversy. The renowned Vivaldi scholar Michael Talbot believes only one aria, 'Sovente il sole', has definitely been composed by Vivaldi. Having studied the score his theory is that the overture and the choruses as well as the arias of Meliso have probably been composed by Porpora, Albinoni almost certainly composed the arias of Cassiope, one of Perseo's arias and probably also the duet of Andromeda and Perseo, Giovanni Porta the arias of Andromeda and another composer - the suggestions are Antonio Biffi or Antonio Lotti - those of Daliso. There seems to be no clue as to who composed the recitatives and who put the serenata together.

Vivaldi may have composed only one aria in this serenata, it is his name which draws the audience to a performance of this piece. The performance in Utrecht was well attended, but one wonders how many people in the audience would have bothered to come if the piece had been advertised as being composed by Porpora or Albinoni. And who on earth is Giovanni Porta? As it turned out the whole piece is a collection of the most exquisite music one could wish for. Yes, Vivaldi's aria was a highlight, and typical Vivaldian at that, with its virtuosic solo part for the violin. But there were many other delighful arias. Giovanni Porta may not be a household name, even to lovers of baroque music, but the arias of Andromeda are among the best in this serenata, in particular 'Un occhio amabile', with its beautiful solo part for the cello (Porta himself was a cellist), and the rage aria 'Lo so, barbari fatti', with a very effective use of the horns.
And Albinoni may not be known in the first place for his vocal music, Cassiope's arias show a composer who knows how to write for the voice. I especially liked the virtuosic aria 'Si rinforzi in te la spene' and the lyrical 'Con dolce mormorio'. I was a little less impressed by the role of Meliso, which is rather small anyway, but his aria 'Ruscelletti limpidetti', with its illustration of the murmuring brook in the strings was delightful. Daliso's role is a good one, but his music is perhaps not the most noticeable of the serenata, the best part being the aria 'Peni chi vuol penar'.

The star of the night was certainly Simone Kermes. She has a very beautiful and brilliant voice, and, what is more important, she was able to portray her character very vividly, more than any other singer in the cast. She was definitely the most communicative of them all. She felt much at home in the above-mentioned rage aria, but was also able to sing 'Un occhio amabile' with great subtlety.

In many ways Mac Emanuel Cencic was the opposite. His voice seems not to be very powerful, but his singing is also characterised by a rather wide vibrato, which I think is unstylish and sounds ugly to my ears. I have to say it didn't bother me that much in his aria 'Sovente il sole', which he sang quite beautifully, but much more in his other aria 'Non ha tranquillo il cor'. Here - as in the recitatives - the text was difficult to understand and the lower notes were too weak. As he is not exactly a newbie in opera I was surprised by the stiffness and lack of communication in his recitatives.

No lack of communicative skills had Enrico Onofri. Better known as specialist on the baroque violin - where he also likes to communicate vividly with the audience, as I experienced during a concert in the Holland Festival Early Music in Utrecht earlier in the year - he is acting as a professional singer since about three years. Considering his vocal qualities and the general character of his singing I don't see him in a very dramatic role. He would be better suited to more comical roles like in intermezzi. But Daliso isn't the most deep character in this serenata anyway, so he was alright here. I especially admired his rhythmically free and speech-like performance of the recitatives. It was completely naturally - perhaps partly due to the fact that he is a native Italian speaker.

Marijana Mijanovic is a fast rising star in baroque opera. The strength of her low register is remarkable and makes her voice quite dramatic. These qualities didn't quite fit the not too dramatic role of Meliso, but she was able to sing her arias beautifully.

Katerina Beranova was a new name to me, but certainly one I hope to see more often in the cast of baroque operas and oratorios. I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer beauty of her voice, and the felixibility of her singing, as she impressively demonstrated in the aria 'Si rinforzi in te la spene', performed at high speed, but phrased and articulated well nevertheless. And I loved the sweetness of her voice in 'Con dolce mormorio'.

Lastly the orchestra: I have heard the Venice Baroque Orchestra during a concert before, with Andreas Scholl, when it made a very strong impression. It wasn't any different this time. On the contrary, right from the start it demonstrated that it belongs to the best baroque orchestras of our time, with vivid playing from the strings and impressively blaring horns in the overture. Its support of the singers was outstanding, driving them on or delivering sweetness and intimacy. The performance of the instrumental solo parts in some arias was excellent as well.

There may be uncertainty as to who exactly composed what in this serenata. Maybe that question will be answered sometime in the future. But from a musical point of view, who cares? If the music is that good, it fully deserves to be performed and recorded. It was a great night, and I am sure that whoever purchases the recording won't regret it and will listen to it more than just a couple of times.

Johan van Veen ( 2004)

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