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Concert reviews

"Sotto la fredde neve - Italian cantatas and sonatas from the late baroque"

Occhio di Falcone
concert: Feb 9, 2012, Woerden, Lutheran Church

Attilio ARIOSTI (1666-1729): Le profezie d'Eliseo, oratorio (Prole tenera, aria); Sonata for viola d'amore [viola da gamba] and bc in C; Bernardo PASQUINI (1637-1710): Sonata per basso solo; Nicola Antonio PORPORA (1686-1768): Filli, oh Dio, chi t'asconde e dove sei?, cantata; Giuseppe PORSILE (1680-1750): L'anima immortale, oratorio (La bella ragione, aria); Posa sopra d'un faggio, cantata; Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725): Ardo ver per te d'Amore, cantata; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Sonata for transverse flute [recorder] and bc in e minor (RV 50)

Judith van Wanroij, soprano; Bert Honig, recorder; Susanne Braumann, viola da gamba; Johann Hofmann, harpsichord

If an ensemble wishes to perform chamber cantatas from the baroque period, what to choose? The number of cantatas written in the decades around 1700 is in the thousands. In the case of the ensemble Occhio di Falcone the choice is limited to cantatas with a part for the recorder. As the large majority of cantatas was scored for solo voice and basso continuo, and additional treble instruments were mostly violin(s) or transverse flute, the number of cantatas of this particular scoring is probably not that large.

The ensemble came up with an interesting programme which included mostly little-known pieces. The one exception was the Sonata in e minor (RV 50) by Vivaldi, originally scored for transverse flute, but here performed on the voice flute. The cantata Ardo ver per te d'Amore by Alessandro Scarlatti, which concluded the programme, isn't unknown either. The least-known name in the programme was Giuseppe Porsile, a composer from Naples who stayed in Barcelona from 1695 to 1717 and then worked at the imperial court in Vienna until his death in 1750. It is notable that he seems to receive some attention lately, as the German soprano Dorothee Mields has performed another of his cantatas in public concerts with the Ensemble 1700 of the German recorder player Dorothee Oberlinger. In his cantata Posa sopra d'un faggio a turtledove turns up, which explains the use of a recorder. The same is the case in the first aria of Filli, oh Dio, chi t'asconde e dove sei by Nicola Antonio Porpora, also from Naples, but much more famous as composer and singing teacher than Porsile. Both cantatas comprise two pairs of recitative and aria, and include some nice specimens of text illustration (for instance on "sospira" in the second of Porsile's arias). This form was more or less established by Alessandro Scarlatti, but in his cantata Ardo ver per te d'Amore he breaks away from this standard by omitting the introductory recitative.

There is no doubt that Judith van Wanroij is a great theatrical talent who feels at home in opera, as her career indicates. As chamber cantatas are very close to opera theatrical instinct is required in this repertoire as well. And that resulted in captivating interpretations of the three cantatas on the programme.
But the surroundings in which such cantatas are performed is mostly quite different from the opera theatre, and that asks for a somewhat different approach. In the rather small church in which the concert took place Ms Van Wanroij seemed not to realise that. In Porsile's cantata which opened the programme she was too loud, and it took some time to adapt to the volume of her singing. The balance with in particular the recorder was less than ideal. I also had some problems with the fact that she uses quite a bit of vibrato, which is not in line with the aesthetic ideals of the baroque period. Fortunately the volume was less intrusive in the other cantatas, and in particular in an aria from an oratorio by Porsile she reduced her volume.

This aria, 'La bella ragione', from his oratorio L'anima immortale, turned out to be a wonderful piece, also because of the obbligato part for the viola da gamba. It was beautifully sung and played, and made me curious about this work. Another oratorio which I would like to hear is Le profezie d'Eliseo by Attilio Ariosti, from which the aria 'Prole tenera' was performed. This includes even two obbligato parts for viole da gamba, one of which had been arranged for recorder. There is no objection against arrangements, but in this case the effect of two viols couldn't be imitated. Even so, it was great to become acquainted with this piece. Here again the volume of Ms Van Wanroij was a bit too loud.

Johan Hofmann played one of those intriguing sonatas by Bernardo Pasquini, which the interpreter has to work out as a basso continuo part. The performance is hard to assess if you don't play basso continuo yourself, but I was pleased by what came out. Attilio Ariosti returned with one of his sonatas for viola d'amore and bc, again in an arrangement, this time for viola da gamba. In this adaptation it sounded quite good, and Susanne Braumann delivered an engaging performance on a beautiful instrument which she found fairly recently and which has been restored into playing condition. I should not forget to mention the stylish and differentiated playing of Bert Honig on the recorder, in thr cantatas as well as in Vivaldi's beautiful sonata.

Despite some reservations I enjoyed the concert and I was delighted to attend a performance in which lesser-known repertoire was presented. This can't be appreciated enough.

Johan van Veen ( 2012)

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