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Alessandro STRADELLA (1639-1682)
Amanti, olà, olà!, Accademia d'Amore a 5 voci* [52:15]
Chi resiste al Dio bendato** [21:14]
Rosita Frisani (**); Cristiana Presutti; Anna Chierichetti (**) (soprano); Gianluca Belfiori Doro (alto); Mario Cecchetti, Makoto Sakurada (tenor); Riccardo Ristori (**) (bass)
Alessandro Stradella Consort/Estevan Velardi
rec. October 2000 (**), June 2001, May 2005 (*),Oratorio di S. Erasmo a Sori, Genoa, Italy. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN0728 [73:43] 

 


Alessandro Stradella is one of the very few composers of the Italian 17th century who has never fallen into oblivion. There were no musical reasons for this. It was rather his adventurous life, full of adultery and affairs with women and, most of all, his violent death which stirred the imagination. Stradella became the subject of a number of operas, of which the one by Friedrich von Flotow is the most famous.

Being born in 1639 in Nepi in the province of Viterbo, Stradella started work as a musician and composer in Rome, where his family had settled. Among his patrons were some of the best-known aristocratic families in the capital. They included the Swedish Queen Christina, who had moved to Rome after converting to Catholicism and whose court became a centre of arts and music. His secondary job of matchmaking brought him into trouble, forcing him to take refuge in Venice. Here an illicit relationship caused him to be attacked and he fled to Genoa. It was another affair which cost him his life. He was stabbed to death by hired assassins, but their identity remained a mystery. After his death Stradella was called 'un Orfeo assassinato' - a murdered Orfeo. This is perhaps evidence of his reputation not only as a composer but also as a singer - he seems to have had a very fine tenor voice.

Stradella composed around three hundred works in almost every genre: operas, serenades, oratorios, cantatas, songs, madrigals and instrumental works. Among the most famous are his oratorio San Giovanni Battista, whose first modern performance took place in 1949 with Maria Callas in one of the main roles. Another oratorio, La Susanna, has also received several performances and has been recorded a couple of times. But Stradella's secular vocal works have not fared well, and most of them are still to be rediscovered. This disc is a good step in this process. The two compositions recorded here are different in size and character, but share some of the features of Stradella's style.

One of these features is the treatment of the orchestra. Stradella must have been one of the first to apply the principle of splitting the instrumental ensemble into a 'concertino' and a 'concerto grosso'. It is proven that Arcangelo Corelli took part in the first performance of 'San Giovanni Battista', where this practice is also used. It must have influenced his development of the 'concerto grosso' as an independent musical form. As in Corelli's Concerti grossi, the 'concertino' in the compositions on this disc consists of two violins and cello. The 'concerto grosso' contains the usual body of strings. In this performance the basso continuo section includes a 'Spanish guitar', which is used to great effect. In some sections the violins are split into four different parts, which demonstrates Stradella’s originality in his use of instruments. But it is all at the service of expression, which is one of the strengths of his writing. This also explains the dissonances and sudden modulations in some instrumental sections in the works recorded here.

The first work is called an 'Accademia d'Amore'. It is an academic discourse about love, in which eight characters are involved: Bellezza (Beauty), Cortesia (Courtesy), Capriccio (Fancy), Amore (Love), Rigore (Discipline), Disinganno (Disenchantment) and two Accademiche (Academicians). The work consists of a sequence of recitatives and arias and a couple of duets. The recitatives are sometimes strongly declamatory, but often shift towards lyricism. Most arias are rather short, but there is one long aria in which Bellezza underlines her argument that beauty is the main aspect of love: "The beauty of a lovely face is paradise for every heart". Like some other arias it is in two stanzas, which are followed by a ritornello. It is very expressive and serious in character. At the other end of the spectrum is the aria of Disinganno, 'Si guardo', which he himself in the preceding recitative describes as 'uno scherzo musicale' - "a light-hearted ditty". Just as the argument threatens to get out of hand, Amore proposes to bid farewell by joining in a madrigal. It is for five voices which are remarkably accompanied by basso continuo only.

The second piece is much shorter and is assumed to have been composed towards the end of Stradella's life. In this work he makes use of the da capo structure, which is absent in the first work. There the musical material is sometimes repeated, but always to a different text. The subject of this short cantata is the same: the influence of love on the human spirit. Here there are no characters, just three voices: two sopranos and a bass. The second soprano and the bass only sing duets, the arias are all for the first soprano. Here again we find a lengthy aria: 'Chi del bendato arcier'. On the whole the arias are more virtuosic than in the 'Accademia d'Amore'.

This disc is an important contribution to the exploration of the oeuvre of Alessandro Stradella and it shows his great qualities. The performances leave something to be desired. The instrumental ensemble play very well, both in the 'concertino' and in the 'concerto grosso'. The basso continuo section gives excellent support to the singers. Most of them do a fine job, in particular the sopranos Rosita Frisani and Cristiana Presutti. Some others, especially Gianluca Belfiori Doro and Riccardo Ristori, use too much vibrato, which obstructs a satisfying blend with the other voices. That is particularly the case in the 'madrigals' which open and conclude the 'Accademia d'Amore'. It can also be heard in the duets of soprano II and the bass in the cantata. It may not bother some, but for me it takes something away from my enjoyment of this recording.

Despite these remarks I recommend this disc because of the quality of the music and the overall level of performance. The booklet contains all lyrics with an English translation and an extensive description of all sections of these two works.

Johan van Veen

 

 


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