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Giovanni Battista SAMMARTINI (1700/01-1775)
Il pianto degli Angeli della Pace, Cantata sacra per soli, orchestra e basso continuo J-C 119 (1751)
Symphony in E flat major J-C 26
Silvia Mapelli (soprano)
Ainhoa Soraluze (mezzo)
Giorgio Tiboni (tenor)
Filippo Ravizza (harpsichord)
Capriccio Italiano Ensemble/Daniele Ferrari
Recorded in Monza, Milan, March 2002
NAXOS 8.557432 [54.09]

 

In Haydnís view Sammartini was "a scribbler" but he was clearly an eminent enough one to attract Gluck as a pupil. He was probably born in Milan and remains better known for his orchestral music, some of which certainly impressed Gluck who recycled some in his own sinfonias. Both as maestro di cappella and organist he was held in the highest esteem. Itís welcome therefore that examples of his devotional music are now appearing on disc with greater frequency.

High amongst those works is Il pianto degli Angeli della Pace, a cantata not based on the Gospel but rather a dialogue on salvation and its fulfilment through Christ. To this end there are three soloists, a long orchestral introduction, extensive recitative, soaring arias and a choral melody that returns three times, giving the piece a rondo-like form Ė a sort of leitmotif, as the notes rightly say, that attempts to link the work in a huge chain of significance.

The acoustic is good, the band quite small and with some fine solo voices there Ė good oboist for instance, the winding, introductory tune of which announces immediately the contemplative depth of much of the Cantata. The cello soloist fares well in Rasserenata il ciglio (reminding one of those cello solo parts Handel wrote in his own choral works). The arias are sometimes devout and sometimes quasi-operatic with an invitation to the soloist for florid extensions at the top. Sammartini occupies a broadly centre-Baroque stylistic position. He tended to be more classical in his orchestral works but there are certainly some indications of directions to be taken, and the Rondo/leitmotif devices are effective and cumulatively impressive.

The solo singing is on a rather less exalted level. Soprano Silvia Mapelli is clearly the best of the trio. Sometimes thereís quite a lot of air around the voice, which is a recording characteristic and once or twice when she opens up the tone can get a tiny bit squally at the top. But though this is a youthful voice there is an odd technical problem inasmuch as her lower voice is often employed parlando and her upper register is declamatory and operatic. Mezzo Ainhoa Soraluze can be unsteady and her pitch is occasionally uncertain. I canít say I enjoyed her contribution. Giorgio Tiboniís voice is far better suited to Neapolitan song than Sammartini. This isnít a put-down because it would be attractive in the Gigli repertoire or in verismo but itís completely incongruous here.

We end with an example of Sammartiniís purely orchestral writing, a three movement Symphony lasting less than nine minutes. Thereís nothing really distinctive about it other than a pomposo element to the finale. Given the opportunity Iíd probably join with Haydnís assessment here. But there are attractive things in the cantata even if the vocal performances could have been considerably improved.

Jonathan Woolf



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