Nicola PORPORA (1686-1768)
Cantatas for the Prince of Wales, Op.1 (1735)
rec. 2016/17, Arena del Sole, Roccabianca, Italy
Full texts and translations
GLOSSA GCD923513 [73:50 + 74:58]
The recent rediscovery of Porpora’s music, whether in single-composer recital or in mixed repertoire, has tended to concentrate on his ornate operatic music, whether virtuosic or expressive, the music one associates with the great castrati of the time. This finely programmed twofer, by contrast, focuses on his more ascetic but in their own way compellingly articulate cantatas.
They were composed for Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales, in 1735 during a period in which Porpora was resident in London fighting for the Opera of the Nobility, backed by Frederick, against Handel’s resident company. Porpora famously had at his disposal Farinelli, Cuzzoni, Senesino and Montagnana. Even though some, maybe much, of the music was composed before Porpora’s arrival, it was in the context of this Italianate incursion into the capital that the cantatas should be seen; a two-forked attack of blistering Italian opera supplemented by Arcadian cantatas. The texts were by Pietro Metastasio, the settings were full of recitatives and arias, and the edition was luxuriously produced: a profoundly impressive musical calling card for the 49-year-old composer.
The cantatas were soon established as some of the most admired works of the time, and they continued to be heard well into the late nineteenth-century. Porpora’s pupil, Giuseppe Sigismondo, who called his teacher ‘as shrewd as a fox’ for his stripped-back accompaniments and rapid publication of the cantatas, also hit the right mark when he complimented the works for their natural vocal lines, effortless modulations, and the acutely perceptive word setting. In this excellent performance of the whole set Stile Galante, under the direction of Stefano Aresi, has paid regard to the particularities of vocal performance practice, not least the use of embellishments such as strascino and cercar della nota – Aresi’s booklet notes are enlightening on these points and well worth investigating. He employs four singers throughout the twelve works, Francesca Cassinari and Emanuela Galli, sopranos, and Giuseppina Bridelli and Marina De Liso, contraltos.
The wily fox’s instrumentation was simply obbligato cello and harpsichord and the ordering of the cantatas here ensures flexibility and variety throughout the programme. No one should expect the virtuoso fireworks of Porpora’s stage works; instead these elegant, discreet, finely modulated works offer their own reflective pleasures, best savoured one by one. There is, for example, the unhurried melodic richness of the opening aria of the Fifth cantata to admire, or the authoritative divisions of the second recitative of the tenth or the sublimated operatic recitative of the eighth cantata. Then there’s the beautifully weighted concluding aria of the third – the majority of cantatas house two recitatives and arias but three of them have two arias housing a single recit.
Above all one finds here an economy of means coupled with a directness of expression, whether the death motifs that course throughout cantata III, the grave cello moulding of the aria Quella ferita in Cantata XI or the lightness of being enshrined in the finale of Cantata I.
The singers all have distinctive qualities. Marina De Liso has perhaps the heaviest vibrato, for example, whilst Francesca Cassinari is slightly pipy and boyish in the fourth cantata even though her consonants don’t always quite ‘sound’. From time to time I felt the harpsichord placement just a little distant but perhaps that changes through the different sessions involved; which cantata was recorded exactly when is not made clear.
There are full texts and translations, attractive colour photographs of the musicians, all looking very jolly, and a most welcome sense of engagement throughout this compelling twofer.
Cantata V: Scrivo in te l’amato nome [10:29]
Cantata X: O se fosse il mio core [11:11]
Cantata VIII: Or che una nube ingrata [14:07]
Cantata III: Tirsi chiamare a nome [11:26]
Cantata IX: Destatevi, oh pastori [14:16]
Cantata VI:Già la notte s’avvicina [12:10]
Cantata XI: Oh dio, che non è vero [12:31]
Cantata IV: Queste che miri, oh Nice [11:40]
Cantata VII: Veggo la selva e il monte [10:47]
Cantata II: Nel mio sonno almen talora [13:54]
Cantata I: D’amore il primo dardo [11:32]
Cantata XII: Dal povero mio cor [13:42]