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Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660
La Colpa, Il Pentimento, La Grazia
Parte prima [49:07]
Parte seconda [42:51]
Alessandro STRADELLA (1644
Lamentatione per il Mercordi Santo* [9:18]
Crocifissione e Morte di N.S. Giesù Cristo* [13:10]
Mechthild Bach (La Colpa), Petra Geitner (La Grazia) (soprano),
Kai Wessel (Il Pentimento & Stradella) (alto)
Orchestra and Vocal ensemble La Stagione/Michael Schneider
rec. 18-22 March 1991, Schlosskirche Bad Homburg, Germany. DDD
CAPRICCIO C 5126 [49:07 + 65:23]
As music-lovers we can only be grateful when interesting recordings which probably are no longer available are reissued. One would wish, though, that record companies would be more careful in their presentation of such reissues. The liner-notes of this recording state that Alessandro Scarlatti's oratorios, "apart from a few uncharacteristic exceptions", have fallen into oblivion. That was true in 1991, when this recording was first released. Fortunately this situation has greatly improved, and a considerable number of oratorios are now available on disc. It is a matter of regret that the company didn't feel it necessary to adapt this text to the present state of affairs.
That doesn't take anything away from the importance of this release, even though since then another recording has appeared (directed by Eduardo López Banzo; Harmonia Mundi, 2003). Its original title is Oratorio per la Passione di Nostro Signore Gesù Cristo, but is mostly referred to as La Colpa, Il Pentimento, La Grazia, which is derived from the title of a performance with a Latin text in 1725. It is a quite remarkable work, for historical, textual and musical reasons.
First, historically it is notable that this oratorio was part of a series of eight oratorios which were performed during Lent 1708 at the palace of Cardinal Ottoboni in Rome. Among the composers were Antonio Caldara and Pietro Paolo Bencini. Scarlatti himself contributed two oratorios, Il martirio di S Cecilia and the oratorio recorded here. La Colpa, Il Pentimento, La Grazia was to be performed on Wednesday of Holy Week. It is also remarkable that on the first day of Easter Handel's oratorio La Resurrezione was performed. Was that the end of the said cycle? In his liner-notes Michael Schneider suggests there was indeed a connection.
The libretto of Scarlatti's oratorio was written by the Cardinal himself. There are three allegorical characters: La Colpa (Sin), Il Pentimento (Repentance) and La Grazia (Grace). There is no plot or any dramatic interaction between them. The oratorio is rather a discourse about the connection between these three. The liner-notes sum up the content thus: "Mankind, having become guilty by the death of the Redeemer, can only find salvation by turning remorsefully and concretely to God and receiving the divine 'concession' of heavenly love in the form of grace. The hymn to the 'Cross' in the final chorus serves as a reminder that this is the only way by which Man can reach the presence of God on the Day of Judgement". The most remarkable feature of the libretto is the inclusion of the Lamentations of Jeremiah for Maundy Thursday. They are not quoted, but paraphrased, and not in Latin - as was common practice - but in Italian. This inclusion results in a stylistic contrast, because for most parts of these texts Scarlatti makes use of the stile antico. The soloist sings the lamentation paraphrases - mostly taking the form of arioso, with clear references to plainchant - in declamatory manner, whereas the expression is provided by the orchestra, through harmony and musical figures. In one of the lamentation passages the basso continuo even keeps silent. Other parts are set in the modern concertante style of Scarlatti's days, which includes dacapo arias. These are used for the dialogues between the three characters as well, and here Scarlatti also makes use of recitatives.
The lamentations only turn up in the first part; in the second part Ottoboni makes use of another liturgical phenomenon, the Reproaches (Improperia). These texts, also sung during Holy Week, were put together from various books in the Bible. It is in particular Popule meus which Ottoboni incorporated: "My pitiless sons, what has God done to you? Why do you arm yourselves with scorn? Answer!" Towards the end the attention turns to the Last Judgement and here the four trumpets and the trombone enter. The closing chorus is also remarkable for its scoring for ten voices which lends this piece - also due to its slow tempo - a great solemnity.
The performance is such that this reissue is welcome. The three soloists bring good interpretations, albeit a bit too restrained. That is in particular notable in comparison to the recording of Eduardo López Banzo. On the whole I prefer the performances of his two female singers, Lola Casariego (Colpa) and María Espada (Grazia). Kai Wessel is superior to Martín Oro in the role of Il Pentimento, though. Banzo's performance as a whole is more dramatic. There is one thing I don't understand, and that is the difference between the two closing choruses. Schneider's is slow and solemn, Banzo's faster and dramatic. Although the text is the same, the music and the scoring is different. In Banzo's recording it is sung by the three soloists, Schneider uses a small choir with tenors and basses. Could this be a different version, probably from the 1725 revival? The booklet omits to tell us.
Whereas Banzo has onlythe oratorio by Scarlatti, Schneider has added two pieces for Holy Week by Alessandro Stradella. He was one generation older than Scarlatti and one of Italy's most celebrated composers from the second half of the 17th century. The Lamentatione per il Mercordi Santo is the only part of the Lamentations Stradella set - or the only part which has survived. It is scored for alto and basso continuo. The Hebrew letters are set as vocalises as is so often the case in settings of the Lamentations. The verses are in declamatory form, with much attention to the expression of the words. The other piece is a cantata on a free poetic text, scored for alto, two violins and bc. It begins with a Sinfonia. Then a recitative introduces Jesus at the cross. The two arias are put into his mouth: "Now the severity of the torments the wounded me is at an end", and: "My heart has lightly borne the ropes and chaines". The cantata ends with: "Thus, with his death, he ended the proofs of his burning love. What do you think, O heart, of such sweet words?" Kai Wessel finds the right approach to these pieces. His generally introverted performance works well, and he pays much attention to the text.
I started this review by referring to the liner-notes. They should have been brought up to date, and erroneous statements should have been corrected. Schneider states that the references to the Lamentations in Scarlatti's oratorio are from the liturgy for Good Friday, whereas Bernhard Drobig's notes on the text rightly say that they are from Maundy Thursday. It is odd that this contradiction wasn't corrected in the original release, and it is even odder that this omission hasn't been redeemed for this reissue.
Johan van Veen