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Giovanni LEGRENZI (1626 - 1690)
Il Sedecia - oratorio in 2 parts
Sonata La Torriana, op. 2,15 [4:29]
Il Sedecia, Parte prima [24:30]
Sonata La Strasolda, op. 2,4 [3:27]
Il Sedecia, Parte seconda [25:43]
Sonata La Frangipana, op. 2,3 [3:28]
Francesca Lombardi (First son [Figlio primo]), Lisa Serafini (Second son [Figlio secondo]) (soprano), Andrea Arrivabene (Narrator [Testo]) (alto), Raffaele Giordani (Zedekiah [Sedecia]) (tenor), Walter Testolin (Nebuchadnezzar [Nabucco]) (bass)
Oficina Musicum/Riccardo Favero
rec. October 2010, Chiesa di Sant'Alessandro Martire, Massanzago (PD), Italy. DDD
Texts included; translation to be downloaded from here
DYNAMIC CDS 711 [61:39]

Experience Classicsonline



 
Riccardo Favero seems to have a special interest in the oeuvre of Giovanni Legrenzi. At about the same time this disc was recorded he also produced a disc with instrumental and vocal works.This was released under the title Testamentum. In 2008 he recorded a disc with two sacred pieces.
 
Legrenzi is a quite important figure in Italian music history, albeit mainly in the instrumental field. That was especially the case after his move to Venice. This took place by 1670 at the latest. Before that he had held several positions in Bergamo and Ferrara. In Venice he acted as maestro di musica in various ospedali. During the 1680s he was appointed first as vice-maestro and then maestro de cappella at San Marco. He composed a number of operas and a considerable corpus of sacred music. In his instrumental works he is the link between the 17th century and the canzonas of Merula and Cazzati on the one hand and the late baroque style of composers like Vivaldi and Torelli on the other.
 
The work-list in New Grove mentions seven oratorios; four of these are lost. They all belong to the category of the oratorio volgare, the oratorio in the vernacular. Il Sedecia dates from 1676; from that same year comes La vendita del core humano which was recorded by the Ensemble Legrenzi (Brilliant Classics). An oratorio which is not mentioned in New Grove was released by Tactus: Il Cuor umano all'incanto, probably also from the 1670s. Lastly, there is La morte del cor penitente, which probably dates from 1671. This was recorded by the Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca (Divox).
 
Il Sedecia is set during the last stages of Judah as a political entity. The last three kings were puppets of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar who was the main political force in the region. Zedekiah, the third and last king, revolted against the Babylonians, ignoring the messages of God’s prophet, Jeremiah. Jerusalem was besieged and destroyed, Zedekiah was captured, his sons were killed before his eyes and then he was blinded and sent to Babylon in captivity.
 
The oratorio is divided into two parts. The first begins with a chorus of the Jews: "Let us flee prompt and swift". The Testo then begins to report about the events which unfold in the rest of this part. Zedekiah expresses his sorrow about having to leave his kingdom and urges his two sons to take courage. They express their admiration for their father's courage and they wish to follow him. A choir of soldiers sings the praises of Nebuchadnezzar who is sure that Zedekiah will not escape: "My thundering arm shall reach him no matter where he wanders". As was common practice in all oratorios of the time the first part ends with a five-part madrigale, expressing a moral: "How mad you are, foolish absconder! You think you can run away, but Heaven's wrath cannot be escaped". This reflects the messages of the prophet Jeremiah that the fate of Judah and its King were God's punishment for their sins.
 
In the second part we meet Zedekiah and his two sons, resting on the banks of the Jordan river, near Jericho. The peace and quiet is disrupted by the Baylonian armies which chase them. They are captured, and Nebuchadnezzar announces the punishment. Zedekiah urges him to kill him and spare his sons, but these then challenge Nebuchadnezzar to kill them. So it happens: they are killed and Zedekiah is blinded. Zedekiah laments his fate and takes the blame for what has happened. The oratorio ends with another madrigale: "Mortals, learn the law of God; first he corrects, then he turns a deaf ear."
 
The performance raises some questions. First of all, the liner-notes tell us that the oratorio is scored for voices and continuo. It is then stated that the various characters have their own instruments: the two sons, for instance, are accompanied by a violin. The question then is: what exactly do they play? It seems that they mostly follow the bass line. I wonder whether this practice has any historical justification. Apparently Legrenzi didn't see the need to add instrumental parts to the score. The second issue is the scoring of the choruses. These are in five parts which was common in oratorios of the time. The very fact that there are also five soloists in the same scoring - SSATB - strongly suggests that these choruses were to be sung by the soloists. That is confirmed by the chorus of Nebuchadnezzar's soldiers (track 36) which is in three parts: ATB. One has to assume that oratorios like this were mostly performed with very small forces. Many oratorios don't have an overture; that is the case here. In modern performances and recordings this is usually compensated for by selecting a sinfonia by the same composer or a contemporary of his. Here the first and second parts are preceded by sonatas from Legrenzi's op. 2; the closing chorus is followed by a third sonata. The fact that the oratorio is scored for voices and bc, without other instruments, raises questions in regard to the historical justification of this practice. It is not very logical to play a sinfonia for two violins and bc when no violins are needed in the oratorio itself. Several of these sonatas, which were originally scored for two violins and bc, are played by cornett and violin.
 
The singers all have very nice voices which are excellently suited to this kind of repertoire. The interpretations are different, though. The two sopranos stand out in their accounts of the roles of Zedekiah's sons. The duet in which they say farewell to their father as they are killed is very moving and impressively performed. Andrea Arrivabene does well as the Testo, avoiding too much involvement which would be at odds with his role as narrator. Raffaele Giordani fails fully to explore the role of Zedekiah. He is too bland by half. You can hear this especially in the closing scene when he faces Nebuchadnezzar and hears what is going to be his and his sons' fate. The same goes for Walter Testolin in the role of Nebuchadnezzar. He boasts about his power: "Let those who see my glory and do not worship it suffer perpetual horror". He doesn't make enough of that; his singing is far too neat.
 
This recording should be given a warm welcome as it is the last of Legrenzi's extant oratorios to make its way to disc. That said, the interpretation could have done more to express the work’s dramatic character.
 
Johan van Veen
http://www.musica-dei-donum.org
https://twitter.com/johanvanveen  

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