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Decca Phase 4
Gottlieb NAUMANN (1741-1801)
La Passione di Gesù Cristo (1767) [120:04]
Bragadin (mezzo); Makoto Sakurada (tenor); Raffaele Giordani
(tenor); Alfredo Grandini (bass)
Coro La Stagione Armonica
Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto/Sergio Balestracci
rec. live, 6-7 November 2006, Auditorium Pollini, Padua,
365-2 [65:02 + 55:04]
There are interesting musicological developments highlighted
by the music on this CD – specifically those of the growth
of the oratorio with its Italian roots and German flowering.
What began as a musical form for choral and vocal worship
during Holy Week became slowly secularized and more dramatic.
Johann Gottlieb Naumann, a contemporary of Joseph Haydn,
was associated with Dresden, worked in Sweden and travelled
in Italy. In his Passione di Gesù Cristo he
concentrates on smaller scale emotions and conflicts – albeit
in the context of the (conventional) Passion story. It
probably, in 1767. That’s quite an undertaking for a twenty-six
year old, although Naumann already had several other vocal
and choral successes to his name.
performed crisply and with feeling by the musicians on
these two CDs; they clearly have an affinity with the music,
the style and the genre – and make the most of it. This
oratorio may remind listeners new to Naumann’s music of
a rather dour and straight-laced Haydn. It’s varied and
serious without every touching the intensity of other,
more familiar, such pieces by Naumann’s contemporaries
and immediate predecessors. There are moments of jollity,
penetrating insight into suffering as an experience, relief
and release. The contrasts between the immediate and the
wider context are explored. The human element is more important
in Naumann’s conception of the Passion than the heavenly.
two-hour long work was the response to a commission in
Padua, in which city Naumann had numerous contacts, having
become the pupil there of Giuseppe Tartini eight years
earlier. There is some doubt about the exact date and circumstances
of the composition and performance of La Passione di
Gesù Cristo; what’s more, in 1787 another Passion by
Naumann on the same theme and with the same name was performed.
followed the style current in Northern Italy… increasingly
independent of operatic conventions, although with greater
characterisation of the four principal figures, Peter,
John, Mary Magdalene and Joseph of Arimathea; and a mixture
of narrative reportage (of events) and reflective aria.
Also of interest is the extent to which wider matters of
faith and doctrine are explored… Peter’s aria, Se la
pupilla inferma [CD2 tr.6], for example, laments humankind’s
ability to know God because of the weight of its sin. This
reflection is extended in John’s Dovunque il guardo
giro [CD2 tr.8]. There is more of Mozart than Bach
in this oratorio: the first line alone of Mary Magdalene’s Vorrei
dirti il mio dolore ‘Let me tell you of my sorrow’ [CD1
tr.7] makes that plain!
this is not a lightweight piece. Although it has none of
the heart-wrenching choral highpoints of the Bach Passions,
and few of the penetrating arias that we expect from even
a Bach cantata, La Passione di Gesù Cristo is nevertheless
satisfying. It’s its own work, written, one suspects, by
a confident and accomplished composer who had thoroughly
absorbed the many styles of the late Baroque which he had
sought out and to which he had been exposed.
the singers Monica Bragadin (Mary Magdalene) is almost Ferrier-like in a low steely
register, which conveys more authority than pain. Makoto
Sakurada (Peter) is just the opposite – airy, full of pace
and a little withdrawn. Raffaele Giordani (John) emphasises
sensitivity, a studied detachment; he sings with great
tenderness and sensitivity. Alfredo Grandini’s (Joseph)
bass is perhaps the most fluid voice on this set. He wraps
it around everything he comes across and uses its rich
and resonant register to great effect – listen to All’idea
de’ tuoi perigli [CD2 tr.4], for example; there is
enough detachment to balance the commitment.
Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto has an excellent sense
of both tempo and dynamic, underlining the drama at both
its quiet and its more animated moments, though they never
really propel the action forward in a way that might have
lent tension and contrast. There are times too when the
strings are a little watery, a trifle strained. There are,
on the other hand, some superbly played intricate numbers
where quiet intimacy appropriately and consistently re-inforces
the sense of humanity. Peter’s Se a librarsi in mezzo
all’onde with the bassoon solo [CD2 tr.2] is a good
example. La Stagione Armonica has a small role; it tends
to come across as more a selection of soloists than even
the most tamed Bachian chorus.
Balestracci has a retiring, almost hands-off role, which
makes for a pure and transparent experience – Mozartian
again. But it robs the music of some of its passion.
Few listeners unfamiliar with Naumann are likely to come
away from this performance jettisoning the desire to look
any further for profound oratorio. There are few melodies
which stay with one after the experience – except perhaps
the final chorus, unusually contrapuntal; and few touching
harmonic high points. Yet these forces have managed to
convey what’s best in a work of simple appeal and which
stands at a historically fascinating juncture.
This is late Baroque oratorio blending Italian and German
styles. Not an earth-shattering Passion then but one whose
nods in the direction of both Opera Seria and religious
declamation with a human touch make pleasing listening – especially
with such competent and committed performers.
The recording is ample and well produced, the booklet carries
good background information, although the translation of
the essay into English is somewhat overworked. The text
of the oratorio is set in Italian, English and German.
If you enjoy late Baroque sacred choral music and want
to explore a less well-known corner, Naumann’s La
Passione di Gesù Cristo is
well worth investigating.
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