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La Bella Cantatrice - Cantatas
Reinhard KEISER (1674 - 1739) Salvate il mio sposo; La Bella Cantatrice; Il geloso Sprezzante; Von dem Landelben; Uber den 62. Psalm; Von der Musik; Non sa dire; Qual nova crudeltate
Suzanne Ryden (soprano)
Capella Orlandi Bremen
Hille Perl (viola da gamba)
Margit Schultheiss (harp)
Klaus Eichhorn (organ positive)
Thomas Ihlenfeldt (chitarone and baroque guitar)
Rec. Ev. Luth Kirche zu Backemoor, November 27 – December 1, 2000
CPO 999 9562 [65.44]


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Reinhard Keiser is best known as the resident composer at the opera house in Hamburg whilst the young Georg Frideric Handel played in the orchestra. Keiser produced a series of operas tailored to the Hamburg taste – polyglot operas (Italian and German) with short melodic arias. Keiser transferred these virtues to his cantatas; not surprisingly given that in the preface to a publication of 1698 he stated his view that a cantata was simply an operatic scene, reduced to a single person.

The cantatas on this disc come from three collections. ‘Divertimenti serenissimi’ was published in Hamburg in 1713 and consists of settings of Italian texts. The work was dedicated to Countess Maria Aurora von Königsmarck, herself a noted writer of operatic libretti. The second collection, ‘Muskalisches Land-Lust’ was published in Hamburg in 1714 and sets German texts by Menantes, the nom-de-plume of C.F.Hunold. The texts were written at the height of the poet Sturm und Drang period, but at the time of the cantatas’ publication he had retired into a position as professor of law. The cantatas in this collection were dedicated, as a wedding present, to the scions of one of the great Hamburg mercantile families. The other source of cantatas on the present disc is another group of miscellaneous Italian cantatas preserved in manuscript form in the Berlin State Library.

The disc opens with ‘Salvate il mio sposo’ (Save my spouse) a simple da capo aria with an extremely haunting melody in which a woman prays to the Gods for the life of her spouse. This is followed by ‘La bella cantatrice’ (The fair songstress), a long sequence of recitative and arias in which a highly self-regarding artiste describes the effects that her powers have on her audience. ‘Il gelosso sprezzante’ (Disdainful jealousy) consists of a pair of recitatives and arias in which the protagonist bemoans that she is fated to be jealous.

The next item moves from Italian to German. ‘Von dem Landleben’ (Of Country Life’) opens with a charmingly melodic arietta describing country life, this is expanded in a long recitative followed by a final pair of arias. In ‘Über den 62. Psalm’ (On the 62nd Psalm) a pair of arias separated by a recitative describes the feelings of the poet meditating on the Psalm. ‘Von Music’ (On Music) is a long meditation on the power of music.

The final two cantatas return to Italian. In ‘Non sa dire l’alma mi’ (My soul cannot say), the singer describes the pangs of burgeoning love. ‘Qual nova crudeltate’ (What new cruelty) berates the poet’s lover for her continuing cruelty. This last item is the only one where Keiser did actually recycle an existing operatic scene (from his 1703 opera ‘Claudius’)

The soloist in all the cantatas is the Swedish soprano, Suzanne Ryden. She has a pleasant, bright, clear, focused voice with a nice line in flexible ornament. Her ability to sing beautifully placed, long, quiet high notes is most welcome and her plangent tones make her very suitable in this repertoire and she shows this off stunningly in the lovely opening aria of ‘Non sa dire l’alma mia’. But without vibrato there are occasional moments when her shading of notes sounds perilously like singing under the note. This music requires a singer of virtuoso capabilities and, by and large, she fulfils these requirements admirably. Though, after listening to an entire disc I did wish that she had projected the text a little more and had been susceptible to the changing mood (affekt) of the various movements.

She is ably supported by Capella Orlandi Bremen. The group make real chamber music, one never feels short changed that these are cut down operatic movements. The group’s continuo group produces some wonderfully varied timbres from their different combinations of organ, harp and theorbo.

For those interested in baroque music of the period, this is a lovely disc. But these lovely pieces should have a wider audience and this is just the disc to help provide it.

Robert Hugill

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