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Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725)
Quella pace gradita
E perchè non seguitur, o pastorelle [12:36]
Sconsolato rusignolo [05:19]
Filen, mio caro (H 263) [14:49]
Quella pace gradita (H 610) [19:41]
Tu sei quella, che al nome (H 743) [13:37]
Alicia Amo (soprano), Giuseppina Bridelli (mezzo-soprano), Filippo Mineccia (alto)
La Ritirata/Josetxu Obregón
rec. 2018, Teatro Bulevar, Torrelodones, Spain
Texts and translations included
GLOSSA GCD923107 [66:02]

Alessandro Scarlatti was the most prolific composers of chamber cantatas in Italy around 1700, contributing more than 800 cantatas to the genre and playing a decisive role in its development by establishing its basic form of two pairs of recitative and aria, scored for solo voice (mostly soprano or alto) and basso continuo.

However, he sometimes deviated from this structure, by extending the number of recitatives and arias or adding a second voice or instruments. The present disc includes four cantatas in the latter category, in which the singer is accompanied by a small instrumental ensemble of recorder(s), violin(s) and cello, with basso continuo. Cantatas with instruments often open with an instrumental section, mostly called sinfonia, scored for the entire ensemble. In the arias, sometimes one instrument has an obbligato part but in the closing aria all the instruments come together again.

The subject matter of chamber cantatas is largely the same: (unhappy) love in the world of Arcadia, inhabited by shepherds and shepherdesses (such as Aminta, Chloris and Philaenus), nymphs and hunters, and filled with meadows, brooks and groves. The concept of Arcadia had its roots in antiquity. One of the features of the Renaissance was a revival of interest in antiquity, and Jacopo Sannazaro's pastoral novel Arcadia, published in 1502/04, bears witness to that. In that work he created an imaginary world which was the main source of inspiration for the Arcadian ideals of the centuries to come. The Arcadian Academy in Rome and similar academies which were founded across Italy in the next decades, fit into this tradition.

The performance of chamber cantatas was a fixed part of the gatherings of such academies. It is assumed that most of Scarlatti's cantatas were written for performances in the palaces of the likes of the Cardinals Ottoboni and Pamphili and Prince Ruspoli, three of the main patrons of the arts in Rome. The fact that two cantatas have been preserved in a Neapolitan library doesn't tell us much about where they were performed, as Scarlatti worked for considerable periods of time in both cities.

E perché non seguite, o pastorelle is scored for a solo alto voice (here sung by the mezzo-soprano Giuseppina Bridelli) and an ensemble of two recorders and two violins, with basso continuo. The instrumental scoring is remarkable, and as no similar scorings have been found in Scarlatti's oeuvre, there are doubts regarding its authenticity. Such a scoring allowed the composer to display his contrapuntal skills, and these come clearly to the fore in the opening sinfonia. This is followed by three pairs of recitative and aria. The recitatives usually turn towards an arioso at the last line. The first aria says: "Little river, you slowly move toward the sea with your clear silver waves". It has a kind of languidness, which is perfectly realised in the performance. The second aria, 'È dolce quella piaga', is an example of an aria with an obbligato instrumental part, in this case the recorder, which becomes involved in a dialogue with the voice. The subject of the protagonist's love here is Chloris.

Next follows a separate aria; the manuscript links it with the cantata Filii tu sai s'io t'amo, but this is unlikely as the two have different scorings. It is for soprano with an ensemble of flautino (the kind of recorder for which Vivaldi composed several concertos), two violins, viola and basso continuo. The participation of the flautino can be explained by the reference to the nightingale in the text: "Disconsolate nightingale, stop your singing and your flight and answer my woe". The word "answer" (rispondi) is followed by a pause, and then the answer comes from the recorder. In the B part the word "sospiri" (sighs) is singled out.

Filen, mio caro is about Philaenus; this cantata is scored for alto with an ensemble of recorder, two violins and basso continuo. It opens with a sinfonia, which is followed by two pairs of recitative and aria. The text of the first aria includes a reference to an Echo, answering the protagonist. This is undoubtedly the reason why Scarlatti gave the recorder an obbligato part, but it does not strictly act as an echo of the voice. The aria ends with a ritornello of the entire ensemble. All the instruments also participate in the closing aria, where the relationship between the recorder and the strings is various. The liner-notes say that they play in unison, but that is not the case for the entire aria.

Quella pace gradita is again a cantata with three pairs of recitative and aria, following a sinfonia in two sections. Here Scarlatti divides the instrumental ensemble into two: on the one hand the violin and the cello, on the other the recorder and the basso continuo. At the end they join each other. The recitatives include quite some chromaticism. The first aria, 'Crudel tiranno Amore', has an obbligato part for the violin, whereas in the second, 'Care selve', the cello comes forward. This aria ends with a ritornello for the entire ensemble. The cantata ends with an aria, saying "I want to live with you, sad turtledove, in the deepest part of the woods". Not surprisingly, here the recorder has a prominent part, alongside the violin.

The disc ends with Tu sei quella, che al nome, scored for alto, recorder, two violins and basso continuo. The beloved has the name Santa, and this causes the protagonist to say in the closing aria: "That lady, who, just as the gods, feels no mercy, does not deserve such a holy name". In the first aria, the singer is accompanied by recorder and violins, without the participation of the basso continuo. Twice Scarlatti writes a false note on "error" (mistake), an example of text expression that is hard to miss.

Scarlatti left eighty cantatas with instrumental ensemble. Some of them are quite well-known, and one of these is Quella pace gradita. In fact, three of these cantatas have been recorded before; the exception seems to be Tu sei quella, che al nome. One could consider that to be a little disappointing, as there are definitely many cantatas waiting to be performed and recorded. That said, they receive fine performances here. The three singers use a little more vibrato than I would have liked, but it is not very wide and does not spoil my enjoyment. The singers deliver stylish performances, also with regard to ornamentation and the required rhythmic freedom in the recitatives. The instrumental parts are excellently executed.

The main thing here is that these performances once again demonstrate the qualities of Alessandro Scarlatti as a composer of vocal music. The subject matter may be very much alike in these cantatas, but the way he treats it in these cantatas is admirably differentiated. This disc is a fine addition to the discography of his oeuvre.

Johan van Veen



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