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CD: Crotchet

Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Te Deum (1720s) [5.56]
Stabat Mater (1715-1719) [25.57]
Miserere [12.53]
Magnificat [13.19]
Laetatus sum (1729) [12.48]
Richard Butler (tenor); Nicholas Daly (treble); Timothy Mead (boy alto); Ashley Grote (organ); Daniel Hyde (organ); Joseph Crouch (cello); Choir of King’s College, Cambridge/Stephen Cleobury
rec. 8-11 July 2002, Chapel King’s College, Cambridge
EMI CLASSICS 2357352 [70.55]
Experience Classicsonline

You get the impression that Domenico Scarlatti remained under his father’s domination both musically and personally until the younger Scarlatti left for the Iberian peninsula. It was only after this move that Domenico’s music seems to have taken flight and developed real life of its own. In fact, Domenico had to resort to a court case in 1717 to prevent his father interfering in his personal affairs.
This disc is unusual in that it is a survey of Domenico Scarlatti’s choral music. Usually his works crop up on disc in tandem with those by other composers. The Stabat Mater is available in versions by such groups as The Sixteen and Concerto Italiano. But here King’s College Choir, under Stephen Cleobury give us three additional pieces to form an attractive programme.
The works range in time from his period in Rome (1715-1719) to his years in Portugal. The lovely Miserere survives in manuscript in the Vatican archives. It was almost certainly written for the choir of the Cappella Giulia of which Scarlatti was the musical director. Like the Allegri setting of the psalm, this work was probably written for the Tenebrae service at the Sistine chapel. Like all the settings of this text used by the Vatican for the Tenebrae service, Scarlatti’s piece interleaves polyphonic verses with plainchant. His setting is relatively simply but all the more moving for its simplicity. It is given a beautiful performance by the King’s forces.
The Magnificat similarly survives in Vatican manuscript and was probably written for Vatican forces; it is Scarlatti’s only surviving Magnificat. The work is in four parts and three movements.
The other work from his Roman period is the Stabat Mater, Scarlatti’s best known piece. A substantial ten-part setting in eleven movements, it mixes solo and choral movements. Scarlatti probably wrote it for the Cappella Giulia, at least it appears to be designed for a virtuoso group. Though he is relatively sparing in his use of full vocal forces, the choral sections include some highly vivid writing.
The Te Deum dates from the Scarlatti’s period of employment in Portugal during the 1720s. An eight-part work full of vigorous part-writing, it reflects the Portuguese court’s habit of marking the end of the year with a service of thanksgiving.
The final work is the psalm setting, Laetatus sum. This is notable because it was first heard at the wedding of Scarlatti’s pupil Infanta Maria Barbara to the heir to the Spanish throne. This marriage which resulted in Scarlatti moving to the Spanish Royal Court with his pupil.
King’s College Choir performs this music with their customary aplomb, and aided by the chapel acoustic give the music a lovely bloom. There are moments when the trebles sound a little taxed, but this is not surprising in music that was probably both unfamiliar and tricky. Similarly the solo treble voices can be a little varied, but none is less than creditable.
If you are mainly interested in the Stabat Mater then you might do well to investigate one of the CDs where the work is sung by a mixed voice choir. The particular delight of this disc is the way Cleobury has surrounded the better known work with a quartet of other attractive ones.
Stephen Cleobury and King’s College Choir give this music the attention it deserves and have produced a lively and attractive programme. Sometimes Scarlatti seems to be note-spinning in contemporary style, rather than developing music in his own distinctive style, but it is well put together nonetheless. Nothing on this disc has quite the attention-grabbing distinction of some of the keyboard sonatas, but it is still a programme worth investigating.
Robert Hugill


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