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Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725)
Davidis pugna et victoria (The Fight of David and his Victory) (1700)
Roberta Invernizzi (soprano) - David; Robin Johanssen (soprano) - Jonathan; Martin Oro (counter-tenor) - Saul; Fredrik Akselberg (tenor) - Narrator; Antonio Abete (bass) - Goliath; Academia Montis Regalis/Alessandro De Marchi
rec. Oratorio Santa Croce, Mondovi, Italy, 5-9 March 2009. DDD.
Text and translation included
HYPERION CDA67714 [64:50]
Experience Classicsonline

I had just completed my review of this recording for my November 2009 Download Roundup when the physical CD arrived. Having made the recording my Download of the Month - New Repertoire, I decided to leave that review in situ and expand it for the main MusicWeb International pages, thereby giving myself the chance to hear and consider this wonderful music again.

Last month I did my best to avoid making a Hyperion recording of renaissance or baroque music my Download of the Month, but this just had to receive the accolade, for the novelty of the material, the excellence of the performance and the quality of the recording. The CD is equally worthy to be nominated Recording of the Month. It’s such impressive music yet, though Alessandro Scarlatti is quite well represented on CD, there is no other current recording - was there ever?

It’s hardly surprising that so many Hyperion recordings head my list, since the strengths of their catalogue coincide with my own chief musical interests: medieval, renaissance, baroque, 20th-century British music and chamber music of all periods, but this new CD has rapidly become for me one of the highlights of their catalogue.

The Italian oratorio of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries provided an outlet for dramatic music in Lent when the theatres were closed; later, Handel’s oratorios were to fill the same need in London, with a very fine dividing line between oratorio and opera.

Scarlatti’s David was clearly written for a discerning Lenten audience: not only is the text in Latin rather than Italian, the Latin is written in a Virgilian manner and the librettist even expects the audience to note a direct citation from the Æneid at one point. The decision not to use the text of the Latin Vulgate Bible was doubtless made because Scarlatti wanted a classier classical style, rather than St Jerome’s low Latin, but also because the biblical story is brief and not couched in particularly dramatic terms.

Make no mistake, Scarlatti’s take on the story of David and Goliath is as dramatic as any early opera and it receives a performance to do it full justice from a team who have already made a reputation for themselves with a recording of Vivaldi’s Juditha triumphans (Opus 111 30314 - see review) and an earlier Hyperion recording of Stradella’s San Giovanne Battista (CDA67617 - see review). For a sample of the drama and the way in which these performers convey it, just listen to Goliath threatening to tear David to shreds and for his right hand to drink his blood: Surgam et lacerabo te manibus meis ... (tr.27)

The only musical oddity is the abrupt ending, with a final aria for David which just stops, almost in mid phrase, rather than the expected chorus. When listening to the download, I wondered at first whether there was something missing; there isn’t.

Tony Haywood had some minor reservations about some of the solo contributions to the Stradella CD, reservations which I did not share in the case of the new disc. All the singing here is of a high standard, from soloists and chorus, as is the accompaniment - strings and continuo, the latter audible to just the right degree - and the direction. If I single out Roberta Invernizzi’s David and Antonio Abete’s Goliath, that must not be taken as an adverse reflection on the others.

The recording is of the same high standard as the music and the performances. The booklet is fully equal to Hyperion’s usual high standard, with excellent notes by Carrie Churnside. The very striking Titian painting on the cover echoes the dramatic nature of the music and the performance, especially as Hyperion have chosen to crop it so that Goliath’s arms and one leg are outflung beyond the picture itself, as he falls from grace like Milton’s Satan and his followers:

Headlong themselves they threw
Down from the verge of Heav’n, Eternal wrauth
Burnt after them to the bottomless pit ...
Nine dayes they fell; confounded Chaos roard,
And felt tenfold confusion in thir fall. [Paradise Lost VI 864-6, 871-2]

Even avid downloaders will have to wait a little longer before the Hyperion site is fully operational - as I write, it still exists only in a ‘beta+’ version. Even they should probably not wait, but obtain the CD; everyone else should have no hesitation at all in buying this new recording.

Perhaps now the Academia Montis Regalis and Hyperion may be persuaded to give us some more of these oratorios, including some from an earlier period. There used to be a Vox Turnabout recording of some of these, including Giovanni Anerio’s Vivean felice (1619), a short oratorio about the fall of mankind, of which the music is readily available. Which reminds me in conclusion that Hyperion have an excellent budget-price Helios recording of music by the Anerio brothers, including Giovanni’s Requiem (CDH55213, Westminster Cathedral Choir/James O’Donnell - see review).

Brian Wilson



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