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Conversazioni I - Cantatas from a Cardinal's Court
Antonio CALDARA (c1670-1736)
Clori, mia bella Clori [19:03]
Tomaso ALBINONI (1671-1751)
Senza il core del mio bene [07:53]
Clori vezzosa, e bella [07:11]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Toccata in g minor (HWV 586) [01:20]
Capriccio in g minor (HWV 483) [01:56]
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Sonata in g minor (K 30) [04:28]
George Frideric HANDEL
Vedendo Amor (HWV 175) [13:49]
Sonata in d minor (K 9) [04:05]
Sonata in D (K 430) [03:21]
George Frideric HANDEL
Mi palpita il cor (HWV 132c) [12:47]
Sounds Baroque (Andrew Radley (alto), Georgia Browne (transverse
flute), Joel Raymond (oboe), Jonathan Byers (cello), Andrew Maginley
(lute), Julian Perkins (harpsichord))/Julian Perkins
rec. 8-10 December 2009, St Jude's Church, Hampstead, London, UK.
AVIE AV2197 [76:37]
This disc is devoted to the chamber cantata as written in Italy
around 1700. The repertoire is huge: Alessandro Scarlatti alone
composed at least 600, and probably many more. This bears witness
to the popularity of the genre and the almost insatiable demand
for compositions like those represented here. Of the other composers
on the programme, Caldara and Handel both contributed considerably
to the genre. Whereas Handel's chamber cantatas are among the
most popular and are frequently performed, Caldara's output
is still hardly explored. That makes the inclusion of one of
his cantatas particularly welcome.
That is even more the case as the scoring is rather unconventional.
The largest part of these chamber cantatas was for solo voice
and basso continuo. In some cases one or two instruments were
added, mostly violins. Caldara's cantata contains two parts
for a treble instrument, and these are transverse flute and
oboe. That suggests it was written later in his career, as in
his early years these instruments were not very common, certainly
not in Italy. It also doesn't adhere to the structure we know
from Alessandro Scarlatti's cantatas and which was followed
by most composers: two pairs of recitative and aria. Caldara's
cantata begins with a sinfonia in three short sections, which
is followed by three pairs of recitative and aria.
The content of most of these cantatas is conventional as they
all deal with aspects of love, often focusing on the unhappy
or frustrating side of it. Some mythological figures regularly
turn up, in this case Clori who appears in the cantatas by Caldara
and Scarlatti and in Handel's Mi palpita il cor. The
two cantatas by Handel are the most dramatic, with a graphic
description of the feelings of the protagonist. In Vedendo
amor there is even some dramatic development, making it
a kind of pocket-opera.
Considering the number of recordings of Handel's chamber cantatas
it is almost tragic that exactly these cantatas come off best
in these performances. Andrew Radley has a nice voice and a
feeling for the dramatic. Mi palpita il cor is done quite
well, and so in particular is the second half of Vedendo
amor. He almost makes me forget his incessant vibrato. This
aspect is a little puzzling as he regularly sings a long note
with hardly a trace of it. Why use it elsewhere? The recitative
'In quel bosco' from Vedendo amor is really well done,
but still rhythmically too strict. This is something I have
noticed in particular in the cantatas by Caldara, Scarlatti
and Albinoni: the recitatives are not sufficently speech-like
and the interpreters fail to deliver the rhythmic freedom composers
expected of them.
In these cantatas there is some general blandness, I'm afraid.
That is regrettable from a musical point of view, but even more
because these cantatas are little-known. In order to convince
audiences that this is really good music, they should receive
first-class performances. But they don't. Too many elements
of the text are not fully explored. Just one example: the B-part
of the opening aria of Albinoni's cantata Senza il core del
mio bene is too flat: words like "tormenti e pene"
(torments and pains) should be given more weight by colouring
the voice and using a messa di voce, for instance. The
flute and oboe parts in Caldara's cantata are also not very
engaging. In short, the first part of this disc is too one-dimensional.
The title of this disc refers to the places where cantatas like
these were performed: the palaces of the aristocrats which regularly
held conversazioni (gatherings) with music. One of these
is Cardinal Ottoboni about whose activities Suzanne Aspden writes
in the liner-notes. This could suggest that all the music on
this disc was performed at his palace, but that is not the case.
Mi palpita il cor, for instance, was written after 1710
when Handel was already in London, and Albinoni probably never
was in Rome. Handel was, and so was Domenico Scarlatti. The
famous duel on harpsichord and organ between these two apparently
took place during one of the conversazioni at Ottoboni's
palace in 1708 or 1709. This has been taken by Julian Perkins
as an opportunity to play keyboard works by both composers as
intermezzi in the programme. He suggests Scarlatti's Sonata
in g minor (K 30), one of only five fugues in Scarlatti's
oeuvre and nicknamed The Cat's Fugue, is a parody of
Handel's Capriccio in g minor. Julian Perkins plays these
pieces well, although the tempo of the Sonata in d minor
(K 9) seems a little too slow.
Lastly, it needs to be said that Mi palpita il cor exists
in four versions: two for soprano (one with basso continuo and
one with an additional oboe) and two for alto. Here we encounter
a version for alto, but it is one which does not exist. The
first (HWV 132c) is for alto, transverse flute and bc, the second
(HWV 132d) for alto, flute, oboe and bc. If the disc should
end with a piece in which all players participate, you would
expect to hear the latter. But they perform the former, in which
the flute part in the last aria is replaced by the oboe. This
is a most curious decision which I don't understand.
On balance this is mixed baggage. The cantatas by Handel and
the keyboard pieces are done well enough, but the lesser-known
part of this disc is rather disappointing.
Johan van Veen