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Alessandro STRADELLA (1639-1682)
San Giovanni Battista - oratorio for soloists and instruments (1675) [77:34]
Salome (sop) – Anke Herrmann; San Giovanni Battista (countertenor) – Martin Oro; Herode (bass) – Antonio Abete; Consigliere (tenor) – Fredrik Akselberg; Herodiade (sop) – Elena Cecchi Fedi
Academia Montis Regalis/Alessandro De Marchi
rec. Oratorio Santa Croce, Mondovi, 28-31 March 2007
Full text and translation included.
HYPERION CDA67617 [77:34]
Experience Classicsonline

As almost any music dictionary will tell you, Alessandro Stradella’s music was for many years overshadowed by the murky facts surrounding his demise. A notorious womanizer, his Don Juan-style sexual adventures finally led to his murder in Genoa at the age of 37. Baroque specialists have always rated his music highly, and I remember the venerable critic Edward Greenfield choosing this very piece as one of his top ten discs some years ago. He, like others, had come to know it through the recording that has held sway since its release in 1991, that by Mark Minkowski and his starry forces on Erato. I haven’t been able to sample that recording, which by all accounts still sounds extremely well, but this new contender from Hyperion has many strengths of its own.
It’s been a real pleasure getting to know this Baroque take on the famous Baptist/ Salome story and hearing what got Greenfield so excited. This is a really taut, sophisticated setting that hovers somewhere between opera and oratorio, rather like much of Handel’s output. It was originally written for the Confraternity of Florentines in Rome who, in 1675, commissioned no less than fourteen oratorios on the subject of their patron saint, St. John the Baptist. Stradella’s treatment is the only manuscript to survive, and has tremendous sweep and dramatic tension, with fully rounded characters and superb use of his small orchestral forces. Though traditionally unstaged, the use of Italian rather than Latin text further heightens the operatic feel of this setting, which centres on the corrupt and incestuous court of Herode and its complex relationship with the main protagonist, San Giovanni (John the Baptist). These operatic impressions seem confirmed by conductor Alessandro De Marchi’s liner note, which mentions his being struck by Stradella’s masterpiece as ‘ not so much an oratorio about the Baptist as a genuine Salome’, a feeling which ‘influenced all my subsequent choices…I tried to think about the subject in terms of the theatre’. One of these decisions is to add short instrumental sinfonias by some of Stradella’s contemporaries, namely Colista and Lonati, a brave piece of historical re-creation that is speculative but effective in heightening contrast and tension.
In fact, the instrumental contribution is truly first-rate, with alert, supple playing allied to the conductor’s very brisk pacing and rhythmic tautness. It’s very exciting, though on occasions the singers struggle to keep up with him, as in Herode’s aria ‘Tuonera tra mille turbine’ (track 14). The singing is on the whole very enjoyable, with just a hint of breathiness and slightly heavy vibrato from soprano Anke Herrmann - something I can’t imagine from Minkowski’s Catherine Bott - but a superbly steady counter-tenor in Martin Oro and a firm bass in Antonio Abete. There are excellent, scholarly notes from Carolyn Gianturco, full text and translation, and a wide ranging recording that has depth and detail. As far as I’m aware, the Minkowski is now on mid-price Warner Elatus and is obviously a serious rival, but this new recording will not disappoint anyone who wants to investigate this worthy successor to Monteverdi.
Tony Haywood


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