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Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Stabat Mater - Musica Sacra [57.06]
Stabat Mater Dolorosa [30.46]
O Magnum Mysterium (A. Scarlatti) [3.43]
Messa Breve ìLa Stellaî [17.58]
Te Deum Laudamus [6.17]
Iste Confessor [3.25]

William Byrd Ensemble, Graham O'Reilly
Rec: July 1999.
PIERRE VERANY PV799111 [57.06]

Pierre Verany

While Domenico Scarlatti is mainly known for his magnificent oeuvre of 555 harpsichord sonatas, he also composed other music, including several sacred vocal works. Growing up in the shadow if his father, the greatest vocal composer of the time, Alessandro Scarlatti, it is possible that he found it difficult to 'compete' with his elder. Yet, as these works show, he was a master of emotional sacred vocal music.

From the very first measures of the mournful Stabat Mater, one feels the pain and piety behind these works. Scored for ten voices and basso continuo, the Stabat Mater features long vocal phrases that seem to wash over the listener like waves. Scarlatti uses all ten voices to their maximum effect - sometimes the voices are doubled, sometimes they sing in counterpoint, sometimes four sopranos sing with a tenor; but the overall texture and tone of the work is rich and opulent. This is far from the polychoral tradition of Benevolo and his contemporaries, which was popular in Rome at the time. Yet it is not quite the vocal style of madrigals, either. There is a lush polyphony, but it also exhibits a certain starkness.

The Missa Breve 'La Stella' is one of three works on this disc for double choir. While parts of the work approach a polyphonic style, where all the voices sing together, the first two movements are written in stile concertato, where there are contrasts between tutti and solo parts. As in the Stabat Mater, this work shows a unique vocal style that is rich in counterpoint and texture. The two choirs are well-balanced, and the continuo holds the music together perfectly without intruding.

The motet O Magnum Mysterium, by Domenico's father Alessandro Scarlatti, provides an interesting counterpoint, showing the similarities and differences between the works of the father and son.

The final piece, a short work, Iste Confessor, is a delightfully positive, triumphant, yet intimate work. A solo soprano sings a simple, elegant melody (a hymn that sounds almost like a Christmas carol), which is accompanied in alternating voices by the choir. This small work is huge in its emotional content, and soprano Catherine Greuillet's limpid voice is magnificent.

This is a beautiful performance of some powerful, emotional music. The singers are excellent, and the balance between the voices and the continuo is perfect, as is the recording itself. This deserves the highest recommendation.


Kirk McElhearn

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