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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725)
Dixit Dominus [13:06]
Sdegno la fiamma estinse [4:00]
Mori, mi dici, [4:57]
O selce, o tigre, o ninfa [3:56]
O morte [6:13]
Arsi un tempo [4:16]
Magnificat [21:57]
Concerto Italiano: Anna Simboli (soprano); Elisabetta Tiso (soprano); Paolo Costa (alto); Gianluca Ferrarini (tenor); Sergio Foresti (bass); Ignazio Schifani (organ and harpsichord); Eduardo Eguez (chitarrone)/Rinaldo Alessandrini
rec. 2006, European Union. DDD
NAïVE OP 30350 [58:35]





Concerto Italiano is one of those energetic and expert ensembles which seemed to emerge from nowhere in the mid-1980s, effortlessly to do everything right and now to find itself consistently and deservedly attracting the very highest praise for almost everything it does. The ensemble’s recordings often appear in the lists of ‘first choices’ and ‘highly recommendeds’ while their conductor, Rinaldo Alessandrini, commands a great deal of respect – and it’s growing.

On this CD the seven-strong ensemble performs polyphonic music by the rather conservative – at least in respect of small-scale vocal music – Alessandro Scarlatti. The two works which occupy the bulk of this disc are his Dixit Dominus and Magnificat; these are supplemented by half a dozen secular madrigals. At a time when a more operatic, dramatic - even declamatory - style was developing and becoming more and more popular in Italy, Scarlatti insisted on writing in a more traditional style. This was probably because its structure allowed him the better to meet the challenges he set himself. But it is to be remembered too that the churches and ‘official’ patrons of such music in Rome at the end of the seventeenth and start of the eighteenth centuries markedly favoured a more entrenched, less adventurous, style. What Scarlatti wrote suited those requirements. And, for all we can tell, Scarlatti may also simply have preferred the results of such a compositional style.

Not that these results are any the less full of genuine beauty; nor do they make a diminished impact. What we have on this CD is music of the highest order. The Dixit Dominus is a polished and impactful exercise in counterpoint redolent of Palestrina. Replete with fiendishly difficult (mostly because rhythmically complex) passages, the piece requires real agility and precision. The members of Concerto Italiano have them as needed. It’s a composition that makes no pretence of covering more ground than appropriate; Concerto Italiano perform it with an enthusiastic containment midway between gusto and reverence which does everything necessary to expose its strengths and beauty.

Similarly the Magnificat makes very real demands on its performers: listen to its short Amen, for instance. There’s greater emphasis on solo singing and the texture is somewhat sparser; this can be interpreted as a more ‘modern’ approach. There is greater translucently, which reminds one of Corelli (in the Quia respexit, for example) as much as of Vivaldi, say. It’s a piece which the performers allow to unfold slowly and gently, rather than plough through without attending to the relationship between words, musical line and pace merely because the Magnificat follows a known liturgical pattern.

The madrigals are written in a rich counterpoint and depart from the text-led clarity elaborated by Monteverdi in that the texture and sonic impact are perhaps less focused. This actually means that greater levels of skill by the performers are needed. And they have them: again, the result is very pleasing. Their sonic world could be that of Gesualdo without the dissonances, or even that of some of the later English madrigalists: there is a studied evenness, a control and doggedness containing the sentiments of these five substantial and pointed pieces which might belie the ferocity of their poetry… ‘che vita omicida’, ‘spegna il tuo ghiaccio l’amoroso ardore’. Concerto Italiano pitches this tension and vigour perfectly where conviction pushes brashness aside.

The recording is unfussy; the liner notes informative; the text is provided in French and English as well as Latin and Italian. At just under an hour, one might cavil at the length of the CD, but if you’re looking for quality over quantity, want to be moved by the restrained and gentle singing or even want to sample something of its time yet reflecting the devotion of earlier generations, this is a CD not to be missed.

Mark Sealey

 

 


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