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Italian Oratorios
Jan Dismas ZELENKA (1679-1735)

Gesù al Calvario, 1735:
Introduzione [04:04]
Se in te fosse viva fede al veder, aria [07:45]
A che riserbano i cieli i fulmini, aria [07:08]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)

Concerto for strings and bc in C (RV 114) [05:37]
Juditha Triumphans (RV 645), 1716:
Agitata infido flatu diu, aria [03:26]
Noli ò cara te adorantis, aria [05:59]
Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725)

Cain, overo Il primo omicidio (1707/1710):
Introduzione [03:48]
Mascheratevi, o miei sdegni, aria [02:18]
Perchè mormora il ruscello, aria [04:35]
Bramo, insieme, e morte e vita, aria [02:48]
Miei genitori, addio [04:18]
Antonio CALDARA (1670-1736)

La Passione di Gesù Cristo Signor Nostro (1730):
Introduzione [02:51]
Giacchè mi tremi in seno [08:04]
Matthew White, alto
Tafelmusik/Jeanne Lamon
Recorded in September 2003 at Humbercrest United Church, Toronto, Canada DDD
ANALEKTA AN 2 9813 [63:34]

 

The term 'oratorio' is nowadays used for a musical composition, but originally the word referred to a building. The priest Philip Neri began popular services in Rome in the 1550s in which elements of popular plays on sacred subjects were incorporated, as well as from the 'laudi spirituali'. The building in which these services took place was called 'oratory', and Neri founded an order with the name of 'Congregazione dell'Oratorio'. In between the musical elements of the services a sermon was held. The music associated with these services took the name 'oratorio' as well, and originally consisted of two sections, in between which the sermon was delivered. The main composer of oratorios in Rome in the 17th century was Giacomo Carissimi (1605 - 1674). These oratorios were rather short, and scored for only a small number of singers and instrumentalists. During the last quarter of the 17th century the oratorios started to expand, and the relationship with a religious service gradually disappeared. The performances often took place in secular buildings, like the palaces of nobles and bishops. And the solo parts were sung by singers who usually performed in operas. But since during Lenten the opera houses were closed the oratorios gave the singers additional opportunities to perform, and the audiences to hear their favourite singers.

There is no lack of recordings of arias from 18th century operas. There is nothing wrong with that kind of releases. The connection between arias and the story of the opera is often rather loose. Many opera stars of those days had their favourite arias, which they insisted on singing in almost every opera they were performing. One could consider a programme with opera arias in our time as a collection of 'suitcase arias' like those of the prima donnas of the baroque era.

But it is different with oratorios. I take Scarlatti's oratorio 'Cain, overo Il primo omicidio' - about the murder of Abel by his brother Cain - as an example. A line like "Why murmurs the stream, why rustle the leaves" (the aria "Perchè mormora il ruscello") could find a place in many operas. But the aria "Mascheratevi ò miei sdegni" in which Cain sings "My father may hate me and God despise me, fratricide and traitor" only makes sense when its context is explained.

I believe that a recital programme should be enjoyed without having to read a synopsis of the oratorio in the booklet first. From this perspective this programme is rather unsatisfying.

I also wonder why only arias have been chosen from oratorios which have been recorded before, sometimes even more than once (I know at least four recordings of Vivaldi's 'Juditha triumphans'). Over the years Italian ensembles have surprised us with unknown repertoire - among them oratorios - which were hidden in the archives. And I am sure there is more valuable repertoire never performed and recorded before. It is a shame the musicians haven't used their creativity to present something less familiar than we get on this disc.

As far as the performance is concerned: the recording does start well enough. The two arias from Zelenka's oratorio are sung and played quite well. The contrast between the two sections of the aria "A che riserbano" is done full justice. But after a while the singing and playing becomes monotonous: Matthew White's voice isn't very colourful, and there is a lack of differentiation between the arias, in particular those from Scarlatti's oratorio. The interpretation by Matthew White and Tafelmusik of the last aria on this disc, "Giacchè mi tremi in seno" from Antonio Caldara's oratorio 'La Passione di Gesù Cristo Signor Nostro', only gives a limited impression of its emotional depth.

The combination of mostly quite familiar repertoire, out of its context, in mostly not really satisfying performances leaves me rather unimpressed with this recording. I really can't see who would like to have this disc except the hard-core fans of Matthew White.

Johan van Veen



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