Il Tesoro di San Gennaro - Sacred
Music in early 18th-century Naples
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Sinfonia a 5 in C [3:41]
Cristofaro CARESANA (1640-1709)
Canzona a 4 com istromenti (Sirene festose) [6:39]
Nicola FAGO (1677-1745)
Confitebor a 3 con violini [4:01]
Stabat mater a 4 voci e strumenti [13:52] Domenico SCARLATTI
Sinfonia a 4 in D [4:00]
Antra valles Divo plaudant, motetto a 5 voci e strumenti [16:26]
Gaetano VENEZIANO (1665-1716)
Jam sol recedit, inno voce sola con violini [3:35]
Iste confessor, inno a 2 voci, 4 violini e bc [4:19] Domenico
Sinfonia a 4 in G [2:26] Gaetano VENEZIANO
Ave maris stella, inno a voce sola con violini [4:20]
Valentino Varriale, Leslie Visco (soprano), Filippo Mineccia (alto),
Rosario Totaro, Pino De Vittorio (tenor), Giuseppe Naviglio (bass)
I Turchini/Antonio Florio
rec. March 2012, Chiesa dei Servi di Maria, Sorrento, Italy. DDD
GLOSSA GCD 922605 [63:22]
The San Gennaro mentioned in the title of this disc refers to one
of the patron saints of Naples, Saint Januarius. He was born sometime
in the 3rd century and died around 305. He was bishop of Naples and
is said to have been beheaded. Little is known for sure about his
life and legends have been woven around him. In 1527 Naples was hit
by the plague, and afterwards the Neapolitans decided to build a chapel
dedicated to San Gennaro within the Duomo. The actual building started
only in 1608 and was completed around 40 years later. The chapel was
called the Tesoro (Treasury) di San Gennaro and was inaugurated in
1646. That same year a vocal and instrumental ensemble was founded.
It was expected to provide the music for the yearly three feast days
devoted to the saint.
This disc offers some music written for performance in the Tesoro
during one of the celebrations for Saint Januarius. It is extended
with pieces by other composers from Naples who had no formal ties
with the Tesoro: Domenico Scarlatti and Gaetano Veneziano.
In 1686 Francesco Provenzale was appointed maestro del Tesoro,
a post he kept until his death in 1704. However, in 1699 he was excused
from his obligations due to his poor health, and it was Cristofaro
Caresana who took over the responsibilities of composing music for
the Tesoro. The Canzona a 4 con istromenti has the indication
"per San Gennaro". In his liner-notes Dinko Fabris states
that there are about 130 compositions in manuscript with such a designation.
This piece dates from 1702, and Fabris suggests it could have been
performed at the celebration in May of that year, "the only one
for that year for which there is documentary evidence indicating payment
for eight voices (two per part) and for eight instruments other then
the two organists". It is rather curious, then, that this piece
is performed here with one voice per part.
In 1709 Caresana died, and he was succeeded by Nicola Fago, nicknamed
"Il Tarantino", after his place of birth, Taranto. He was
a pupil of Provenzale and in the first decade of the 18th century
he held posts as primo maestro at two conservatories. He
was the first Neapolitan composer of comical operas, but it is his
sacred music which has brought him fame. He composed five settings
of Psalm 110 (111), Confitebor tibi Domine; the setting recorded
here has survived in various sources, and was published as late as
the early 19th century. His Stabat mater was probably performed
on Maundy Thursday of 1719 by one of the confraternities in Naples.
It is for four voices and violins in which solo passages alternate
with tutti episodes. There are some passages with striking harmonic
progressions, such as "dolentem cum Filio" (sorrowing with
her son) and "in planctu" (in grief). The closing verse
is also highly expressive: "and when my body dies, grant that
my soul be given the glory of Paradise".
Gaetano Veneziano had no ties with the chapel of San Gennaro. He was
another pupil of Provenzale and acted as his music copyist. He held
several important positions in Naples, the most prestigious of them
that of maestro di cappella at the court of the viceroy,
the Real Cappella, a post he held since 1704. Iste confessor
is a hymn for two voices - soprano and alto - with four violins and
bc. The instrumental scoring for four violins is a typically Neapolitan
phenomenon. The two remaining pieces are two hymns in which the solo
parts are rather straightforward. It is the violins which have the
most engaging parts to play, with many figurations.
When Veneziano became associated with the Real Cappella he was the
successor of Alessandro Scarlatti. The latter's son Domenico
was born in Naples and entered the Real Cappella in 1701, at the age
of just 16. From this year is a motet for five voices and instruments,
Antra valles, Divo plaudant, written for the feast of St
John the Baptist. It opens with a tutti section which is repeated
at the end. In between are three solos and a duet. The three instrumental
pieces on this disc are also from Domenico's pen: they belong
to a collection of 17 sinfonias in four or five parts which is preserved
in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. They are probably mostly written
as overtures for operas or oratorios.
This disc offers an interesting programme of music written in Naples
in a period which is not that well-known. Antonio Florio is one of
the experts in this field, and has recorded many discs with music
by Neapolitan composers from the late 17th and early 18th century.
I have heard some of them and have been mostly impressed by the performances.
That is the reason I am slightly disappointed with this disc. The
instrumental performances are excellent. It is the vocal part which
bothers me. The two sopranos are fine, the alto and bass adequate.
The two tenors are the weak spots, especially Rosario Totaro. He is
a specialist in the comical music written in Naples, and seems to
have shaped his voice accordingly. I don't want to be unkind,
but it reminds me of a bleating goat. It has an unpleasant sharpness
and damages the ensemble. I just find his singing unconvincing in
this kind of repertoire. Pino De Vittorio is a bit better, but he
doesn't seem all that comfortable in the two hymns by Veneziano.
The tutti sections in Scarlatti's motet don't need to
sound like a pack of barking dogs.
This assessment may seem pretty harsh, but I really believe that this
disc could have been much better if the selection of voices had been
more critical. Even so, there is much to enjoy here, and the music
is such that everyone interested in this kind of repertoire should
definitely investigate it.
Johan van Veen