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Domenico CIMAROSA (1749-1801)
Dixit Dominus (1797)
Cinzia Rissone (soprano), Sylvia Rottensteiner (mezzo), Gregory Bonfatti (tenor), I Musici Cantori Choir, Trento, Voci Roveretane, Orchestra Haydn di Bolzano e Trento/Fabio Pirona
rec. 12-15 April 2003, Haydn Auditorium, Bozen
Text and translation included
CPO 999 988-2 [54:20]
Experience Classicsonline

Psalm 110 - of which the opening words in the Vulgate are Dixit Dominus Domino meo - is a kind of oracular or prophetic blessing which envisages the Davidic king sitting at the very right hand of God, acting explicitly on God’s behalf, and active both as successful military leader and priest. Though somewhat enigmatic in places, the seven verses of the Psalm express a substantial vision of power. Calvin, in his commentary on the Psalms, wrote that “in this psalm David sets forth the perpetuity of Christ’s reign, and the eternity of his priesthood; and, in the first place, he affirms, That God conferred upon Christ supreme dominion, combined with invincible power, with which he either conquers all his enemies, or compels them to submit to him”. If one thinks of the great musical settings of the Dixit Dominus – by Monteverdi, Vivaldi and Handel, for example – there is some sense of that all-encompassing power. There is little of it in this setting by Cimarosa; which is not to say that it is bad, but that it embodies a slighter, narrower response to the text and a different notion of the sacred.
Most of Cimarosa’s sacred works belong to his early years; but this setting was written only a few years before his death. It may be worth remembering that also in the 1790s Cimarosa was outspoken in his support of the principles of the French Revolution. Indeed he composed ‘A Patriotic Hymn for the Burning of the Portraits of Tyrants’ as part of his sympathy for the antiroyalist movement that led to the establishment of the Parthenopean Republic. His sentiments were hardly those of orthodox Neapolitan Catholic piety and after December 1799, when the King and conservative elements regained control of the city he was first imprisoned, then sentenced to death and finally exiled. His ideas about the power of kings were probably less than fully in harmony with at least the superficial implications of Psalm 110 and we shouldn’t, I think, expect the work to be a work of profound spirituality … is that found anywhere in Cimarosa?
What we get is a work steeped in Cimarosa’s operatic experience, but conventionally ‘sacred’ in form. Thus we get to hear all the musical forces at beginning and end of the work, and in between soloists alternate with chorus. The music is, unsurprisingly, very well put together; there are plenty of enticing melodies and the whole has considerable charm. But compared to the great settings of the same Psalm it lacks both profundity and real grandeur of conception. Still, take it on its own terms and there is much to enjoy.
All three of the soloists get their chances in the limelight, and all three prove to be very decent singers indeed, thoroughly at home in the idiom, if not exactly overwhelming. The tenor Gregory Bonfatti, a man who has turned up in secondary roles on more than a few significant opera sets in recent years, sings very attractively in the ‘Dominis a dextris tuis’, and certainly reminds us (appropriately enough in this context) of his operatic pedigree. The duet between Cinzia Rizzone and Sylvia Rottensteiner in the setting of ‘Virgam virtutis’ is delightful, the interplay of voices very elegant. Rizzone, in particular, sounds like a very accomplished singer.
The Haydn Orchestra di Bolzano e Trento, which plays on modern instruments, was founded in 1960. It has something of a reputation for playing neglected or forgotten repertoire – indeed it gave the first modern performance of this very piece, discovered in manuscript in the library of the San Pietro a Majella Conservatory in Naples. The orchestra is certainly a very competent group of musicians and, under the baton of Fabio Pirona, makes its own substantial contribution to a pleasant disc which - for all its real enough pleasures - is likely to remain the preserve of specialists.
Glyn Pursglove



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