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Giovanni Battista SAMMARTINI (c.1700/01 Ė 1775)
Il pianto degli Angeli della pace, J-C 119
Symphony in E flat major, J-C 26
Silvia Mapelli (soprano)
Ainhoa Soraluze (mezzo)
Giorgio Tiboni (tenor)
Capriccio Italiano Ensemble/Daniele Ferrari
Recorded Monza, Milan, 26 March 2002. DDD
NAXOS 8.557432 [54.09]

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Sammartini was a hugely fecund composer and had a long musical career; he spanned the age from Vivaldi to the emergence of Haydn and the young Mozart. His music is thus an important feature in the transition between baroque and classical. Though he worked as a maestro di capella and as an organist at a number of churches in Milan, not more than twenty or so of his sacred compositions survive.

The cantata Il piano degli Angeli della pace was first performed in 1751 at the church of St. Fedele in Milan. It is written for three soloists, accompanied by an orchestra consisting of strings, oboes, horns and basso continuo.

The plot, such as it is, concerns itself with a discussion between three angels, the Angel of the Alliance, the Angel of the Testament and the Angel of Grace, about the history of salvation and the fulfilment through Christ. The cantata consists of an orchestral introduction, a trio which occurs three times and a da capo aria for each of the characters all linked by recitative. The da capo arias are very substantial; the three arias represent a total of 26 minutes in a 45 minute work.

The work could easily come over as undramatic if not performed sympathetically. Whilst the three soloists are up to the technical challenges that the piece presents, none of them really conveys the drama inherent in the words. This is partly because only the soprano, Silvia Mapelli, has a voice which is truly suitable stylistically to the music. She sings her aria creditably but without bringing to it any élan or sense of the religious sentiment of the words. Alto Ainhoa Soraluze has a vibrato-laden voice and her experience seems to have been in 19th century opera. She fails to bring to the work the necessary sense of line that the music needs.

Tenor Giorgio Tiboni is the most problematic of the three singers. He chooses to sing the role in a rather throaty, vibrato-less tone which reminded me of Jantina Noorman. It is a timbre that I am more used to hearing in earlier music than Sammartiniís. Perhaps a case could be made for it, but it contrasts alarmingly with the more traditional sounds of the two womenís voices. The three voices do not gel in the crucial trio which punctuates the piece.

The Capriccio Italiano Ensemble play the opening introduction in a lively manner, characterised more by vigour than style; but they do bring out Sammartiniís undoubted confidence in handling orchestral forces. Throughout the piece they support the singers well and in the soprano aria with its large cello solo, the anonymous cellist contributes some stylish playing. They really come into their own in the Symphony in E flat. Here we can appreciate Sammartini in the instrumental writing that he seems to do best.

I wish I could be more enthusiastic about this disc. Naxos obviously hope that Sammartiniís extensive catalogue can provide some fine nuggets in the way that other composerís catalogues have been mined. Unfortunately this performance does the work few favours and as far as I am concerned, the jury is still out.

Robert Hugill

see also review by Johnathan Woolf

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