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Francesco DURANTE (1684 -1755)
Neapolitan Christmas
Ad presepe venite “Pastorale o Mottetto per la nativitate Jesu Christe” in G major [24:23]
Magnificat a 4 in B flat major [10:07]
Litanie della BMV in F minor [10:55]
Magnificat a 4 in C minor [4:59]
Kyrie-Gloria Mass, "in Pastorale" in A major [22:16]
Roberta Mameli (soprano), Ursula Eittinger (alto), Andreas Post (tenor), Stephan MacLeod (bass)
Kölner Akademie/Michael Alexander Willens
rec. Deutschlandfunk, Kammermusiksaal, 18-21 November 2010
CPO 777 571-2 [72:51]

Durante was one of the most important of Neapolitan choral music composers and teachers active in the first half of the eighteenth century. He was also among the most influential: his students included Pergolesi.
This disc, entitled Neapolitan Christmas, presents works by Durante associated with the festive season and opens with the most substantial work on the disc, Ad presepe venite, described as a Pastorale o Mottetto per la nativitate Jesu Christe.
Although the jolly opening to this Pastorale is immediately attractive, a problem with balance makes itself felt straightaway: the quality of the voices of the singers is quite thin so they have had to be very closely miked to correct the balance within the ensemble. This results in a rather artificial sound.
Other issues manifest themselves with the singers who, the tenor in particular, sit on the back edge of the beat too much - this gives the music a slightly ragged feeling as well as having the unfortunate effect of holding the tempo back so the whole work slows down. The da capo chorus also disappoints - there is no alteration or variation at all in the repeat; but the music is sung exactly the same the second time around.
Perhaps my main quibble overall is the fact that the performances do not come across as particularly Christmassy and are not performed with any sense of joy. There are no dynamic contrasts; no musical voicing - and this is absolutely at odds with the texts that proclaim such messages as: “Joyfully sound, rejoice now ... and gaily sing ... rejoice, mortals and forever sing together songs of joy ... in splendour and jubilation everything on earth triumphs”.
The reason for this lack of gaiety might, perhaps, be found in the fact that Durante choose to focus on the pastoral element rather than depicting a sense of excited joy - thus we have pastoral sounds and a calm and peaceful contentment expressed in the music rather than elation or exhilaration. The music still needs the meanings of the words brought out, and it needs at the very least a sense of wonder - a reverent joy rather than exuberant joy - yet here we simply have very little joy of any kind at all - only just the slightest of hints in the second stanza of the duetArdente luce amara.
The following Magnificat in B flat minor, Durante’s best-known work, contains a little more animation and the tone colours are well differentiated between the singers. This is good, and works especially well. Tone colours are also good in the Litanie, where the soprano and alto lines are quite close. That said, I must confess that in this work I am not keen on the soprano’s aspirated melissmas, which are not particularly well-controlled. The bass struggles a little on the lower notes, and also seems to be recessed throughout - one struggles to hear him.
The disc also contains a second Magnificat - this one very short at under five minutes. The programme concludes with the Kyrie Mass, written for performance at Christmas. This has far more life and spirit, and the bass manages better here, as well.
Overall, then, a slightly mixed disc, with uneven performances and some problems from the soloists. This is nevertheless beautiful music that deserves to be better-known.
Em Marshall-Luck 

See also review by Johan van Veen
Complete Track-Listing
Ad presepe venite “Pastorale o Mottetto per la nativitate Jesu Christe” in G major
Ad presepe [7:26]
Recitativo. Alto de coeli polo [0:27]
Aria. Candida lumina [7:15]
Recitativo. In hac dicta beata [0:39]
Duet. Ardente luce amara [8:36]
Magnificat a 4 in B flat major [10:07]
Litanie della BMV in F minor
Kyrie [4:49]
Virgo prudentissimo [3:06]
Regina [1:19]
Agnus Dei [1:41]
Magnificat a 4 in C minor [4:59]
Kyrie-Gloria Mass, "in Pastorale" in A major
Kyrie [4:04]
Gloria [3:39]
Gratias [3:14]
Domine Deus [2:36]
Qui tollis [3:48]
Quoniam [2:38]
Cum sancto [2:17]