(Euridice 'from' the
Underworld) occupies less than a quarter of the time on this
collection of lesser known pieces by Alessandro Scarlatti.
It's a chamber cantata representative of the over 600 such
works written by the composer for his wealthy Roman patrons.
There seems to be little doubt that it was the positive reception
by the latter of the former that accounts for such a high
number - at least one every few weeks.Euridice dall'Inferno
the common themes of love in all its guises and twists and
turns reflected in the classical, pastoral world of 'nymphs
and shepherds'. It can be a difficult idiom to perform convincingly,
although the text (Italian and Latin texts are printed here
- and translated into English) is actually very readable
in its own right. It's scored for soprano and continuo (Baroque
cello (Barrett Sills), archlute (Richard Savino) and harpsichord
(Matthew Dirst) here) only, and in three pairs of recitative-da
arias. As a consequence, the singer (Melissa Givens)
and her emotions are very exposed. Her line is a clear one,
conveying enthusiasm, sorrow and commitment to the paradoxes
of Euridice's plight aplenty. But she never quite arrives
at the necessary detachment; and at times there's a hint
of wavering around her notes.
The most substantial piece on
this CD, which all lasts under an hour, is the also diminutive
(31 minutes) oratorio on the Conception of the Virgin Mary.
Again, Givens features: she is the Archangel Michael, and
supported by Gerrod Pagenkopf (counter-tenor, Grace), Joseph
Gaines (tenor, Hersey) and Timothy Jones (bass, The Serpent)
with two of the same continuo players as in the cantata,
plus violin (Alan Austin), Baroque violin (Jonathan Godfrey),
double bass (Dennis Whittaker); Scott Horton here plays archlute.
Their approach is decisive and melodious, full-bodied and
confident. Though the appeal of Scarlatti's melodies is never
lost to technique.To say that the singing in either of these
two pieces is perfunctory or offhand would be an exaggeration.
But it lacks the kind of thrust and confidence which are,
nevertheless, in evidence in the (instrumental) continuo.
Not that the voices lack lustre; their singing is careful
and precise - listen to the aria, 'Nundum Sydera micabant'
[tr.26], for example: it neither lags nor inspires tedium.
Indeed, we hear through it to the very lines of melody that
were so important to Scarlatti. But taken with the very next
number, 'Coeli stellae si furores' [tr.28], you are struck
by something lightweight, as if everyone involved in the
performance and preparation side of the enterprise had reached
an agreement about the musical worth of the work, enlisted
a capable production crew, then had to make up for a lack
of world class talent and rehearsal time with slightly louche
- though repressed - singing.
Given the concentrated structure
of La concettione della Beata Vergine
(two parts introduced
by a sinfonia with barely five arias apiece, a trio and chorus
as well as the highly economic recitatives), there is no
time for lingering or indulgence. But out of that compression
more accomplished ensembles would have drawn greater impact,
stronger, raw emotion; yet rounder edges - as if they had
been familiar with the piece for decades. Ars Lyrica Houston
can in no ways be considered 'deficient'. Just rather ordinary.
Passable, though; but nothing special.
The cello sonata number
2 in C minor is a four movement piece which truly emphasises
the virtuoso capabilities of that instrument, here played -
again - by Sills, with violone (Deborah Dunham), archlute
(Savino) and harpsichord (Dirst). Their playing is businesslike
whilst engaging, clean and clear without being plain. It's
a touching little piece, of which these four players make
the most. And they leave you happy to return for more.
A major Toccata in shorter still - in just two movements,
an allegro and gigue. Of course, lovers of Alessandro Scarlatti's
music will be listening for traits in this solo harpsichord
work (Dirst again) which the composer's son, Domenico, employed.
And sure enough they're there - ostinati
; runs; crossing
hands; angular, jumping melodies. Though not to the exclusion
of everything else - chiefly an inventive liveliness mixed
with containment - which it exhibits.
This CD, then, is more
of a calling card for Alessandro Scarlatti. For anyone unfamiliar
with his work and/or with the breadth of his compositional
skills, it would make a good introduction. If the two choral
works are unknown to you - particularly the Oratorio - then
these performances, while not top of the range, make good
starting points. They are, in fact, the only available recordings
of both Euridice dall'Inferno
and La concettione
della Beata Vergine
. One other of the Sonata exists,
with Mauro Valli and the Accademia Bizantina under Ottavio
Dantone on Arts Music (47616); the Toccata is only otherwise
available as part of Alexander Weimann's survey of the complete
keyboard works, on Atma Classique (22321). Alessandro Scarlatti's
wise and winning music has a very precisely-carved place
in the development of Baroque music.
This CD, though flawed,
contributes to our greater understanding and enjoyment of