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Nicola PORPORA (1686-1768)
Or sì m’avveggio, oh Amore [11:43]
Credimi pur che t’amo [13:58]
Già la notte s’avvicina (La pesca) [11:38]
Or che d’orrido Verno [17:59]
Elena Cecchi Fedi (soprano); Auser Musici (Carlo Ipata (flute, director), Luca Ronconi, Heilke Wulff (violin), Maurizio Borzone (viola), Alessandro Palmeri (cello), Riccardo Coelati (double bass), Francesco Romano (theorbo), Daniele Boccaccio (harpsichord))
rec. October 2006, Oratorio di San Domenico, Pisa
Texts and translations included
HYPERION CDA67621 [55:20]
Experience Classicsonline

In Britain at least, Porpora is still best known for his operatic rivalry with Handel in London between 1733 and 1736, when he wrote for the newly formed Opera of the Nobility set up in competition with Handel’s Royal Academy of Music. But there is, of course, much more to Porpora than that relatively brief episode in his long career.

Born in Naples, Porpora was both famous as a composer and renowned throughout Europe as a teacher of singing - his pupils included Farinelli and Caffarelli. He received his training in Naples at the Conservatorio dei Poveri de Gesù Cristo. His first major work was the opera Agrippina, performed in November 1708 in the Neapolitan Royal Palace. He was maestro di capella at the Conservatorio di San Onofrio in Naples between 1715 and 1721, and his reputation as a composer led to commissions and performances in Rome, Milan, Vienna and elsewhere.

Naturally enough his work as an operatic composer was central to his reputation. But he also composed sacred works, chamber music, pieces for harpsichord – and well over a hundred solo cantatas. Indeed, some connoisseurs judged it to be in the cantatas that Porpora was to be heard at his best (even if they also often had their reservations too). In his Essay on Musical Expression, Charles Avison writes thus:

“Porpora’s cantatas deserve … a particular mention … The most agreeable changes in modulation, from one movement to another, may be found in many of these, his master-pieces. The adagios are generally, indeed, too much lengthened; by which means they are rather tedious when repeated from Da Capo: and notwithstanding I have thought the subjects in them pleasing, and have heard them very finely performed; yet could I never be convinced, that their author had learned the art of knowing when he had done enough” (quoted from the third edition of 1775).

Listening to this fine recording of four of Porpora’s cantatas it is not hard to share some of Avison’s pleasure – and perhaps a few of his reservations too. Given his experience as a teacher, it is not surprising that Porpora should write so well for the voice. Certainly the excellent Elena Cecchi Fedi finds in Porpora’s writing, whether in the superbly judged recitatives or in the arias, a vehicle for some marvellously engaging singing. Each of the cantatas is in several movements. Two of them (‘Credimi pur che t’amo’ and ‘Or che d’orrido Verno’) begin with a short Sinfonia, that for ‘Credimi pur che t’amo’ having three short movements of its own. The alternation of arias and recitatives allows some sharp distinctions and expressive contrasts. Porpora displays considerable skill and invention in his use of the conventions of recitative, and offers more than a few apt and attractive melodies, but it has to be said, in agreement with Avison, that concision is not Poprpora’s most obvious virtue. Still, advantages far outweigh disadvantages in this thoroughly enjoyable recital.

The texts are – predictably enough – declarations of love (or in one case a foreswearing of Cupid and all his insidie e inganni). Without resort to crude word-painting, Porpora’s writing is everywhere attentive to the emotional nuances of his text and at the same time thoroughly imbued with an unexaggerated sense of the dramatic. With the musicians of Auser Musici vivacious and sympathetic in their support of the singer, this is a collection which will surely bring pleasure to every lover of the baroque Italian cantata. If you have discs of Handel’s Italian cantatas on your shelves (without wanting to start another Handel-Porpora rivalry!), or possess recordings of cantatas by, say, Alessandro Scarlatti or Antonio Caldara, you are strongly advised to add these splendid examples of the genre, in excellent performances, to your collection.

Glyn Pursglove


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