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Nicola Antonio PORPORA (1686-1768)
Confitebor for soprano, choir and orchestra (1745) [14:25]
Crimen, Adae quantum constat, for choir and bass continuo (1754) [9:08]
Credidi propter, for choir and orchestra (1745) [5:05]
Nunc dimittis, for choir and orchestra (1744-45) [8:57]
Qui habitat in adiutorium altissimi, for choir and orchestra (1745) [7:54]
Vigilate, oculi mei for soprano and bass continuo (1712) [13:31]
Domine probasti me, for choir and orchestra (1745) [6:20]
Paola Crema (soprano); Maria Zalloni (mezzo)
Coro Femminile Harmònia
Ensemble Barocca I Musicali Affeti/Michele Peguri
rec. 2014, Concert Hall of Canevon, Marghera-Malcontenta, Venice
No texts

The programmatic focus here is on Porpora’s Venetian female choruses largely dating from his ignominious return from Handel-dominated London whence he’d gone as a rival to the local star. The Opera of the Nobility failed to rival Handel, and so in 1742 Porpora found himself in Venice as chorus-master successively of the Ospedale Della Pietà and then at the Ospedale dei Poveri Derelitti. He later journeyed to Dresden, where he fared even worse than in London, before – with Farinelli’s intervention - he returned to Naples, plagued by poverty.

Porpora’s blending of Italian and French models, staunch traditionalism and more contemporary traits, proved that the Neapolitan style could have a fertile seed-bed in Venice, and indeed elsewhere. Though he is best known now for the florid and something extravagantly expressive arias for Farinelli – which is where most disc space these days is centred – he wrote for female choral forces for a significant amount of the time. This disc concentrates largely on the years 1743-47 and the choir of girls of charitable hospitals in the city.

The compositions were almost certainly written for vespers at the Ospedaletto and show Porpora’s fusion at its most pronounced. Confitebor, a concertante piece that’s to say soloists and choir only - is a most attractive example of these traits, its compression serving to accentuate them the more, though the performance is somewhat mechanical and static in execution. A rival version of Vigilate, oculi mei, a Roman work of 1712 and the one anomaly given its compositional date, can be heard from Nicole Switaiski whose more incisive vocalism is superior to the more literal, though tidy and small-scaled performance of Paola Crema, whose divisions are a touch hesitant and voice production slightly inconsistent. However her voice is most certainly suitably girlish in timbre.

The performances throughout are historically well-informed and clearly considerable thought has gone into these realisations; however the violins are untidy from time to time and the choir equally inconsistent – the men’s voices in Domine probasti are none too ship-shape.

There are decent booklet notes but no texts, which will prove disappointing to a number of potential purchasers. There is one work apparently making its disc premiere – Confitebor – which will be of interest, and these enthusiastic performance will prove effective. In all honesty though they remain a stop-gap.

Jonathan Woolf


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