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Francesco SCARLATTI (1666-?1741)
Dixit Dominus: Dixit Dominus [2.56], Donec ponam inimicos tuos [2.19], Virgam virtutis tuae [1.07], Tecum principium [3.14], Juravit Dominus [.232], Dominus a dextris tuis [1.22], De torrente in via bibet [2.04], Gloria Patri [4.27]
Messa: Kyrie [5.09], Gloria [4.12], Gratias agimus tibi [3.35], Domine Deus, Rex Coelestis [2.24], Domine Fili unigenite [3.32], Domine Deus, Agnus Dei [2.49], Qui tollis peccata Mundi (I) {2.33], Qui tollis peccata Mundi (II) [4.00], Quoniam tu solus sanctus [1.4], Cum Sancto Spiritu [3.09]
Miserere: Miserere mei [3.06], Amplius lava me [3.06], Ecce enim [1.23], Asperges me hyssopo [1.55], Cor mundum [1.23], Ne proicias me [1.25], Docebo iniquos vias tuas [3.08], Sacrificium Deo [2.33], Benigne fac Domine [1.06], Tunc acceptabis [2.08], Gloria Patri [3.05]
Armonico Consort, Concerto Gallese, The English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble, Christopher Monks (director), Emma Kirkby (soprano)
Recorded in Douai Abbey, Berkshire, October 2003 DDD
DEUX-ELLES DXL 1096 [73.44]

A note of caution first to the unobservant purchaser who picks up this CD, believing, in glee, that he has stumbled across a premiere recording of Alessandro Scarlatti's Dixit Dominus, newly come to light - or, if not, possibly by his son, Domenico, usually better known for his keyboard music. These works, indeed premiere recordings, are in fact by Domenico's uncle and Alessandro's younger brother, Francesco.

Very little is known about this composer, and most of what we do know indicates a fairly unfortunate and miserable life. He was never able to rival his brother's successful musical career, and, living in Alessandro's shadow, was no stranger to failure - he was rejected for the job of maestro di cappella at Milan Cathedral, and then applied unsuccessfully for the post of assistant Kapellmeister to the court chapel in Vienna. His first wife died after bearing him five children, and his second ran away from him. He died, after years of ill health in Dublin, to a complete lack of obituaries in the Dublin papers and an unknown grave. Born in Sicily, he spent part of his life in Italy, and part in London and Dublin.

This CD comprises three of his four surviving sacred choral works, and opens with the Dixit Dominus. This is probably the least impressive of the pieces on the disc and the writing immediately strikes one as fairly crude, and certainly nothing special. There doesn't seem to be a huge amount of variety in the music in the early tracks, and the music is coarsely, if enthusiastically performed, resulting in a vigour but a sound that grates on the ear. The rough and harsh sound of the opening Dixit, however, is gradually replaced by a more elegant and courtly air, especially noticeable in Tecum Principium. The work gets better and better, culminating with De torrente in via bibet - an absolutely delightful movement, well-crafted, and featuring Emma Kirkby on top form. So Dixit Dominus seems to contain a curious mixture, commencing with some fairly poor writing that improves steadily as it reaches the exquisite later movements.

The Mass is immediately apparent as a more elaborate, complicated and developed piece. Containing flourishes reminiscent of Monteverdi, it is otherwise generally typical eighteenth century baroque. The opening Kyrie is almost Bach-like in places, and other movements bring to mind Vivaldi's Gloria in D, and Handel's Dixit Dominus (Scarlatti's Cum Sancto Spiritu, for example, is remarkably similar to that in Vivaldi's Gloria). This mass contains a great deal of attractive music, and would alone be worth buying the disc for.

A Miserere concludes the CD. This is exquisite in its plaintive melancholia and is a work that stands comparison with any of the others of the period.

Emma Kirkby is, as would be expected, excellent, although some of the male choir voices (from the Armonico Consort) are fairly ropey and marginal in places. The English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble and Concerto Gallese play with animation and gusto, and all is fairly solidly directed by Christopher Monks.

This is a rather surprising and exceptional disc, containing some delightful music. It is hard, however, to fully judge the quality of Scarlatti's composition, as we do not know exactly when these pieces were written and huge musical developments were being made throughout the duration of Scarlatti's lifetime. The works on this disc vary quite wildly, and music of fairly crude construction and execution are alternated or punctuated with greater degrees of sophistication and delicacy. At his worst, Scarlatti is definitely not worth going out of your way for, but at his best he reaches the heights of Vivaldi, Handel or most elevated Bach. A revelation of a disc!

Em Marshall


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