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Antonio SALIERI (1750-1825)
La passione di nostro Signore Gesu Cristo – Azione sacra per Soli, Coro ed Orchestra (1776)
Maddalena – Melba Ramos (soprano)
Giovanni – Franziska Gottwald (contralto)
Pietro – Florian Mock (tenor)
Giuseppe d’Arimatea – Hanno Müller-Brachmann (bass)
Chorus Musicus Köln
Das Neue Orchester/Christoph Spering
Recorded DeutschlandRadio, Funkhaus, Cologne, July 2003
CAPRICCIO 60 100 [2 CDs: 47.29 + 43.06]

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First performed at the Burgtheater in Vienna in 1776 La passione di nostro Signore Gesu Cristo is a work of Salieri’s early maturity. It’s a passion oratorio but one that gorges on operatic convention to make its powerfully dramatic points. If it’s further to be anatomised, the traditional recitative-aria and solo and chorus block voicings also faithfully follow operatic form and so Azione sacra is as good a term as oratorio to describe Salieri’s work.

Opening with an enthusiastically if sometimes approximately played Overture we immediately face two small recitatives for Peter followed by his first aria, Giacché mi tremi in seno, one that immediately establishes the dramatic, theatrical direction of the musical argument, enriched along the way as it is by colourful accompanying instrumentation. Maddalena herself is permitted only one solo – not an aria as such but a Cavatina (No.8 – Vorrei dirti il mio dolore) that follows, almost immediately, the declamatory-consolatory almost hymnal entreaty of the chorus. As John, contralto Franziska Gottwald shows commendable fire and no little technical address in her early aria Come a vista – the divisions are on the button, the voice is flexible and well supported and she reminds me just a touch of David Daniels (a high compliment). I liked Florian Mock’s Peter and his Part I aria Tu nel duol felice sei where one finds, despite some forcing, quite a bit of colour in the voice. Salieri’s dramatic instincts are reinforced by his approach to duet writing – forceful, imaginative, once more theatrical-operatic – as in Vi sento, O Dio for Peter and Maddalena.

Salieri took a text by Pietro Metastasio written in 1730 which deals with the time after the crucifixion and burial but which precedes the resurrection. The libretto balances the piety of Part I with the yearning questioning of the nature of the Resurrection in Part II. And whilst one can’t argue for the work touching the greatest depths one can nevertheless find in it a firm control of schema and of pacing, of emotive states and of the utilisation of operatic form for optimum emotive potential. As a signal of the young Salieri’s already impressive command it’s a strong example and this performance, whilst hardly flawless, is committed and lucidly performed.

Jonathan Woolf


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