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Giovanni Battista SAMMARTINI (1700/01-1775)
Sacred Cantata: Il pianto degli Angeli della Pace J-C 119 (1751) [45:20]
Symphony in E flat J-C 26 [8:49]
Silvia Mapelli (soprano) Angel of the Testament
Ainhoa Soraluze (mezzo-soprano) Angel of Alliance
Giorgio Tiboni (tenor) Angel of Grace
Filippo Ravizza (Harpsichord)
Capriccio Italiano Ensemble/Daniele Ferrari
Rec. Monza, Milan, March 2002. DDD
NAXOS 8.557432 [54:09]

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This recording of Sammartini’s sacred cantata is billed as a world première. This version is based on a critical edition prepared by the conductor Daniele Ferrari. The title translates as The Tears of the Angels of Peace and there is a subtitle – Angels of Alliance, of the Testament and of Grace reflecting the roles of the three soloists, each of whom has one major aria. These three arias form the core of the work. It opens with a brief orchestral Sinfonia following which the three soloists combine to give the first of three renditions of Amare lagrime (Bitter tears flow forth in rivers). After recitatives sung by the tenor and mezzo-soprano interspersed with a prompt reprise of Amare lagrime, the Angel of Alliance sings Oscurata impallidita describing the “obscured and pallid” life “that was so dear to heaven” but which “fell victim and became the sacrifical altar”. The Angel of the Testament takes over with a linking recitative followed by the aria Rasserenate il ciglio (Dry your eyes). By the end of this, tears are flowing once again (And, moved by Pity, may you weep once more). The Angel of Grace tells the others to go whilst remaining to “watch over the beastly implements of death”. The ensuing aria Dal profondo de’ squallidi Abissi (I see spite, deceit, threats, death) leads to the brief recitatives with the “punch lines” – “Beneath the Tree one Man lay dead” … and “by means of the Tree Man won out and was reborn”. The work concludes with a second reprise of Amare lagrime. From the documentation it is not clear to me, and may not be known, who wrote the text. The back of the booklet seems to reproduce part of a programme dated 1751 (perhaps from the first performance?) which attributes the music to Sammartini in quite small print but does not seem to credit the author of the text.

With the exception of the final recitative quoted above, the words of this cantata are almost unremittingly bleak. Sammartini’s music is much less so and seems to provide elements of hope throughout. The musical world moved on a considerable distance during his long career and, in this middle period work, elements of the classical style were emerging. The Italian origins are always clear and influence of Vivaldi often detectable. Nevertheless this is a work of an original and imaginative mind. The orchestra is a prominent contributor although textures are light. Overall, the setting seems rather restrained. The repeated terzetto, Amare lagrime, is most memorable: bitter-sweet, beautiful and superbly realized here. All three soloists excel in their arias and the players of Capriccio Italiano Ensemble are clearly in their element. Daniele Ferrari directs a performance which sets the bar very high for any future recorded competition.

Sammartini wrote much orchestral music during his various posts as maestro di capella in Milan. It seems probable that only a selection survives but about sixty symphonies are known. The work in E flat played here is an attractive filler in three short movements. The style seems to me have some similarity with the work of Johann Christian Bach.

The recorded sound is excellent and, at bargain price, this is tremendous value. Documentation includes a useful essay and the text of the cantata in Italian and English. Sammartini has not been entirely neglected on record but has perhaps not yet gained the recognition that seems to be his due. Hopefully this record will be a big step forward in that respect.

More than 250 years after it was written, the music of the cantata Il pianto degli Angeli della Pace still has a lot to say. Presumably heard by relatively few people in recent times, it is ripe for rediscovery. Apparently Naxos has another première recording of one of Sammartini’s sacred cantatas on the way – that is already on my wish list for 2005.

Patrick C Waller

see also Review by Jonathan Woolf


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