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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Antonio CALEGARI (1757-1828)
La Resurrezione di Lazzaro

Academia de li Musici / Athesis Chorus / Filippo Maria Bressan
Roberta Giua, soprano / Luca Dordolo, tenor / Rosita Frisani, soprano / Manuela Custer, contralto / Salvo Vitale, Bass
Rec Duomo di Monselice, June 2000
CHANDOS CHACONNE CHAN 0673 [78:11]


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An oratorio / cantata type composition by a little known eighteenth century musician written when he was only twenty two does not sound too promising. However, with this convincing performance there is much to enjoy. In addition there is an informative "free" CD ROM.

Calegari was a direct contemporary of Mozart who died within a year of Schubert and Beethoven. His career thus straddled the classical period and early romanticism. Stylistically his music reflects this. La Resurrezione di Lazzaro is his earliest surviving work. Although considering himself primarily a fashionable opera composer, he wrote several sacred works (though none after 1801) and these tend to be in a backward looking style. La Resurrezione di Lazzaro has characteristics of the sacred musical play about it. The text is sung by characters directly involved in the biblical drama taken from the gospel of St John Christ, Thomas, Magdelene, Martha and the risen Lazarus himself who actually interact. A chorus has a relatively minor role.

To enjoy this work with modern ears it is as well to get in the mood for a Metastasian drama. Metastasio, still alive at the time of La Resurrezione, had been so influential as a librettist that he had exerted a stranglehold on the style and formatting of musical drama that was only just beginning to break down. Characteristics included sophisticated poetic texts that were nevertheless clear and direct, intensity of emotion achieved through restraint rather than a heart-on-sleeve approach and the imparting of a worthy and communicable message.

These features are certainly present in this work. After the conventional opening Sinfonia, admittedly one that could be transferable to any work of the type, the drama gets straight to the point with the words "Morte, morte" in a mournful chorus that interacts with Martha. Christ soon makes his entry, asking why so much grief? The story is well under way. But we have just hit another problem for the listener. Christ is sung by a woman. At least it is on this disc. In 1789 it was sung by a castrato in keeping with another Italian tradition that was not to last too much longer. It may take getting used to but if people can flock to see Hamlet played by a woman in contemporary London, then maybe it is not such a problem. Clearly the dramatic centrepiece of this work is the point at which Lazarus is "raised". It is handled with powerful restraint, Christ calling on his Father for help then issuing the order to "rise". Lazarus replies sleepily then sings a number that gradually winds up in excitement as his situation dawns. It sounds and feels like an animal waking from hibernation to a spring day. The happy end of the work has a "death is defied" theme and ends suitably with grand chorusing.

What carries this work from being a worthy curiosity to being an enjoyable listening experience in its own right is the performance. The Academia de li Musici is a distinguished early music outfit and the chorus is supplied by the equally distinguished and versatile Athestis Chorus. I like the playing of the Academia under Filippo Bressan very much . They have achieved fine consistency of style, especially in the matter of "authentic" reduced vibrato. Their clearly executed, no-nonsense playing suits the work so well. The singers are another matter. I am not an expert on singing style and technique of the period and admit to not having read one of the most important treatise on the subject written at the time, ironically by Calegari himself. Even so, I cannot believe that the modern, constant, embedded vibrato employed by the singers approximates to what I would have heard in 1789. The singing of the soloists on this disc is at complete odds with the clarity of style of both the players and the chorus. An additional problem on passing is the difficulty the two sopranos singing Christ and Magdalene have with their frequently low-lying parts. The bottom notes become an audible, breathless struggle.

Notwithstanding my reservations about some of the soloists, this disc is a welcome addition to that body of little known music in a period so dominated by Mozart and Haydn, performed with care and commitment.

The CD ROM provided at no extra charge is nicely put together, There is a considerable amount of text based material covering historical and geographical background as well as details about the work and its performance and audio backed libretto navigation. I particularly liked an historical chart linking history, music and composer life details for any given year.


John Leeman


See also review by Peter Grahame Woolf


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