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Caro Sposo - Reliquie di Roma II
Marco MARAZZOLI (1602-1662)
Oratorio di Santa Caterina [54:58]
Bernardo PASQUINI (1637-1710)
Caino e Abele, oratorio: Lamento di Caino [7:32]
Atalante (Nadine Balbeisi, Emily Van Evera, Katherine Watson (soprano),
Steve Dugardin (alto), Juan Sancho (tenor), Christian Immler (bass),
Claire Duff, Hannah Tibell (violin), Erin Headley (lirone, viola
da gamba), Siobhán Armstrong (arpa doppia), Jörg Jacobi (harpsichord))/Erin
rec. 8-12 July 2010, St Cuthbert's Church, Earls Court, London.
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI 6185 [62:33]
Atalante was founded in 2007 by Erin Headley. Their first disc
was devoted to laments of four ladies: Helen of Troy, Queen
Artemisia, Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary, and was reviewed
here. For this second disc Headley has turned her attention
to the genre of the oratorio which was of great importance in
Italy and specifically in Rome during the 17th century.
Although Giacomo Carissimi can't be considered its inventor,
he was the main contributor to the genre in the mid-17th century.
It didn't take long for the oratorio to become very popular.
On the one hand it was a tool in the hands of the Counter Reformation
to spread its message, on the other it was an alternative to
opera, a genre which didn't go down that well with the
ecclesiastical authorities. Oratorios had different subjects,
but were quite dramatic. Whereas Carissimi's oratorios
were largely directed towards a sophisticated audience who knew
Latin, the oratorio is in Italian and aimed at a wider audience.
Marco Marazzoli was from Parma and was ordained a priest, probably
in 1625. The next year he moved to Rome. It is suggested he
was taken there by Cardinal Ippolito Aldobrandini, who returned
from Parma to Rome in November of that year. For the largest
part of his career he was at the service of Cardinal Antonio
Barberini, a member of a family which played an important role
in the church. It gave him the opportunity to compose operas,
first in Rome but later also in Ferrara and Venice. From 1643
to 1645 he stayed in Paris, composing and performing cantatas
and ballets. After his return to Rome he found the Barberini
family in exile, and that is when he started to compose oratorios,
both in Latin and in Italian. The Oratorio di Santa Caterina
was probably his last contribution to the genre, according to
Erin Headley dating from around 1660.
The story revolves around St Catherine, daughter of King Costus
of Alexandria. After she inherited her father's lands
the Roman emperor Maxentius came to Alexandria to perform a
great ceremony for his gods. According to tradition he fell
in love with her, and asked her to become a lady at his court,
only second to his wife. Being a devout Christian she refused.
Under the threat of torture the emperor wanted to force her
to renounce her faith. She refused firmly, and paid for that
with her life. The libretto was written by Lelio Orsini, one
of the most eminent librettists in Rome. As was customary the
oratorio is split into two parts, each concluded with a five-part
chorus, called madrigale. The story of an oratorio
was always told by a testo, comparable with the Evangelist
in 18th-century German oratorio passions. His role - here performed
by a soprano - is rather limited, for instance in comparison
with the oratorios of Carissimi. The core of the work is the
dialogue between St Catherine and the emperor, who here bears
the name of Massimo.
The opposition between the two characters is quite dramatic,
firstly because of their dialogue in the form of recitatives,
but also because of the different kinds of music they have to
sing. Massimo is rude, using his power to force his will upon
St Catherine and not able to deal with her steadfastness. St
Catherine, on the other hand, is unflappable and answers every
move of the emperor by emphasizing her trust in God. In her
last aria she speaks to Jesus as "caro sposo e Redentore"
- dear spouse and Redeemer. The contrast is underlined by the
scoring of the basso continuo: in the recitatives St Catherine
is mostly supported by the harp, whereas Massimo is accompanied
by the more penetrating sounds of the harpsichord.
The largest part of the work consists of recitatives, but they
are interrupted by mostly rather short, but highly expressive
arias. In particular the arias of St Catherine are moving, like
the one I have already referred to, but also 'Deh'
non più', early in the second part and 'Alme temete'
at the end of part one. The closing episode of the first part
is especially interesting because of the use of bassi ostinati.
That was a common habit at the time, but here it is also related
to the content of the oratorio, and in particular the character
of St Catherine. The main feature of a basso ostinato
is the repetition of the same pattern, and in this case this
can be interpreted as an expression of St Catherine's
perseverance. Her stance is supported by Speranza (Hope) and
"What motivated us to revive the oratorio was the moving
soldier's lament with lirone accompaniment", Erin
Headley writes in the booklet. That lament is in the second
part, just before St Catherine is going to die. After her death
it is the same soldier who expresses the moral message of this
oratorio: "He who does not possess heaven possesses nothing",
which is then repeated in the madrigale à 5 which closes
The main roles are taken by Katherine Watson and Christian Immler.
The former is certainly not chosen because of her Christian
name. She turns out to be an excellent choice because of her
vocal qualities. She portrays St Catherine perfectly, with an
impressive account of the recitatives in truly speechlike manner.
The beauty and sweetness of her voice is suitable for her arias
whose expressive character is fully explored. Christian Immler
is very convincing as emperor Massimo, and one can hear his
increasing anger about St Catherine's uncompromising
stance. The smaller roles of the soldiers, the testo
and Faith and Hope are appropriately sung. Juan Sancho is particularly
good in the above-mentioned lament with lirone. One probably
has to get used to the frequent shifts from falsetto into chest
register by Steve Dugardin. In earlier years I have heard him
doing this with more ease. I wonder whether a high tenor - like
the French hautecontre - would have been a better choice.
Also inspired by the lirone is the extract from Caino e
Abele, an oratorio by Bernardo Pasquini. We hear the lament
of Cain after he has been banished by God for murdering Abel:
"Where, alas, can I hide (...), wretched and abhorred by
the world, hateful to the heavens?" In a way I am disappointed
by this choice: this oratorio is only available in a recording
from 1990 which was recently reissued. In my
review I commented on a lack of drama and the omission of
the lirone in the lira (da gamba) part. The extract
on this disc means that we can forget seeing Atalante recording
the complete oratorio. That said, Emily Van Evera sings the
part of Cain very well.
It rounds off another very fine disc by this ensemble. The repertoire
of vocal music of a dramatic character of the mid-17th century
in Rome is voluminous. It will probably be more difficult to
make a choice than to find music to perform. The quality of
the Roman music of this time and the standard of the performances
make me look forward to upcoming projects from Atalante.
Johan van Veen