the time this recording was first released (1991) Alessandro
Scarlatti was hardly more than a name, and first and foremost
the father of the famous Domenico Scarlatti. Since then much
has changed. Nowadays his music is regularly performed and recorded.
This disc presents some examples of a genre for which he was
particularly famous, the chamber cantata. From the mid-17th
to the mid-18th century thousands of such cantatas were written
in Italy alone. The chamber cantata was one of the most popular
sources of entertainment at courts and in the houses of the
programme contains a nice variety of cantatas. The first is
still one of Scarlatti's best-known works, and regularly performed
during the Christmas period. It is for soprano with two violins,
viola and b.c. Especially the closing aria, 'Toccò la prima
sorte a voi, pastori' (You were destined to be the first, shepherds)
is unmistakably pastoral, as the violins imitate the sound of
the other cantatas are about love, one of the favourite subjects
of the time. 'Là dove a Mergellina' is scored for soprano and
basso continuo, the most common scoring for the genre. In the
recitatives Scarlatti writes in some coloraturas on the words
"laccio" (snare) and "core" (heart). This
is something Scarlatti often does in order to underline elements
in the text. This cantata is also remarkable for its use of
chromatic alterations, in particular in the first half of the
aria 'Ami chi t'ama', which is explained by the text: "Love
the one who loves you, O fair Irene, for cruelty is not a virtue".
The second half has a most unexpected melodic progression. This
piece pays tribute to what was called 'bizarria', strangeness,
which was highly regarded at that time.
'Quella pace gradita' may be more 'conventional', but its scoring
definitely is not. Additional parts for one or two violins in
chamber cantatas were not uncommon, but here we find the far
less common scoring of soprano, recorder, violin, cello and
b.c. It is introduced by a sinfonia in binary form. The first
two arias are followed by a ritornello for all instruments.
Only in the third aria do they all play together with the voice.
is followed by three single arias. Two are from a 19th-century
collection of 'ariette', but may well originally be from operas.
Both are relatively simple settings of two stanzas on the same
music. The third aria is certainly from an opera, another genre
for which Alessandro Scarlatti was famous. While working in
Naples he composed a large number of them.
last cantata is for soprano with two violins and b.c. Here the
instruments are used to illustrate the text, for instance by
tremolandi depicting the "notte algente" (freezing
night) in the third aria. The cantata has an original ending:
after the soprano has sung "ch'io parto" (for I am
leaving) all instruments fall silent, and then the soprano sings
unaccompanied: "addio, addio!" (farewell, farewell).
from the quality of Scarlatti's music the variety of forms and
scorings makes this a very interesting and entertaining disc.
Since it was released a lot has happened in the interpretation
of Italian music, partly thanks to the growing influence of
Italian artists and ensembles. From this perspective the interpretations
by Nancy Argenta and the Chandos Baroque Players may sound a
little distant and pale. I could certainly imagine more colourful
and more dramatic performances. In particular the recitatives
should be treated with more rhythmic freedom. Having said that
I am happy this recording is available again. At the time Nancy
Argenta was one of the finest singers of early music, and especially
in the arias she shows her great skills and the beauty of her
voice. There are fine contributions from the instrumentalists,
both as an ensemble and individually.
Talbot, the great expert in Italian music, has written informative
programme notes. As he is still alive I wonder whether he should
have been asked to update them, as right now it is hardly necessary
to explain the difference between a recitative and an aria,
as he did in 1991.
have to add a note of warning: in my copy there were several
short interruptions in track 27. So if you decide to buy this
disc - which I recommend - be careful and make sure your copy
Johan van Veen