The quote on the back of the CD case “Bernarda Fink, in ravishingly
Beautiful Baroque Masterpieces on the theme of the passion of
Christ” just about sums up neatly the eight works recorded here.
The disc is cannily planned around the Holy Week
story of the Virgin Mary at the foot of the Cross. A brief
but serious two-movement Vivaldi sonata opens proceedings
‘Al Sancto Sepulcro’ – To the Holy Sepulchre
– which is really an adagio and fugue. Then follows a long
sectionalized ‘Cantata sacra’ with a Passacaglia using
a ground bass also found in the opening. The ‘Pianto della
Madonna’ of about 1640 is a contrafactum by Monteverdi
himself of his Arianna’s Lament of thirty years earlier.
Neatly, Vivaldi follows both with a D minor Concerto with
the curious Madrigalesco title and then a Sinfonia
also entitled Al Santo Sepulcro. We then hear a moving
and little known aria by the shadowy Francesco Conti. This
takes the shape of a prayer of St. Lawrence undergoing his
own martyrdom by roasting to death on a gridiron “I can feel
my strength begin to fail me”. This aria features the rare
chalumeau - in effect a deep clarinet - that was later to
feed into the modern instrument but was to be remembered for
its lower register. Its silky tones work well in this almost
sensuous music. Finally there’s a solemn concerto in C minor
by Pisendel using the Vivaldi two-movement formula.
So now let’s put a little flesh on some of these
bones. This is one of those CDs that you can listen to in
one sitting from end to end which I did at first, such is
its variety. However it could be argued that the disc is nothing
other than a vehicle for the amazingly pure and beautiful
voice of Bernarda Fink yet as you can see the instrumental
music is crucial to the concept. The second work which gives
its title to the CD Il Pianto di Maria is a cantata
and is by far the longest piece here. It is well worthy of
our attention. Once, strangely considered to be by Handel,
this is now known to be by a composer new to me: Giovanni
Ferrandini. He was a Venetian who, rather oddly, died in Munich.
It’s a dramatic work more in the early baroque style despite
his dates. The text, which like all of them is given in the
original and in a good translation, is worth reading first.
It begins with a recitative ‘Came the fateful hour ordained
by heaven/when to Calvary/its deathly stage prepared/was to
walk the Creator’s Son”. The work proceeds via other recits
and cavatinas culminating in a passionate da capo aria “My
mournful sighs”. I love the way the Passacaglia by Marini
begins powerfully just seconds after the cantata’s dark ending
and throws you out of your somnolence. Similarly after Monteverdi’s
Pianto the soothing Adagio of Vivaldi’s D minor Concerto
eases one out of the previous mood so naturally that you forget
that the two works were written about one hundred years apart.
The disc ends with a glorious two movement Sonata by the Dresden-based,
virtuoso violinist Johann Pisendel, a not well known but very
The instrumental work including some wonderfully
sensitive continuo playing, led by that fine all-round musician
Giovanni Antonini is exemplary. The singing of Bernarda Fink
is pure, expressive and so very much stylistically aware -
capable of hushed beauty, great depth and power. This is a
unique disc and if you enjoy baroque music in any way you
need to hear it.