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Antonio CALDARA (1670-1736)
Magnificat in D minor [4:10]
Haec est Regina virginum [4:34]
Suscepit Israel [2:17]
Ave maris stella [3:23]
Regina coeli laetare [3:58]
Salve Regina [7:55]
Trio Sonata in E minor, Op.1/5 [7:57]
Crucifixus [4:27]
Laboravi in gemitu meo [2:41]
Tenebrae factae sunt [6:23]
Stabat Mater [16:22]
Vokalakademie Berlin
Bassano Ensemble Berlin/Frank Markowitsch
rec. 17-20 February 2016, Lindenkiche, Berlin-Wilmersdorf, Germany

History has paid a backhanded compliment to Antonio Caldara in that the one composition of his which tended to draw any general attention by audiences and students of music, a Magnificat setting in C, was known not on its own terms but because a copy was made by Bach and one of its movements arranged by him, thereby earning a place in the catalogue of his works (BWV1082).

That section, the ‘Suscepit Israel’, is recorded in Bach’s arrangement on this release, which the Vokalakademie Berlin sing with a rarefied, grisaille tone, overlaid by the silken textures of the added violins here, and sounding like a study for the larger canvas of the B Minor Mass. The old-fashioned a cappella style of this work is only one of Caldara’s compositional voices, however; in this small selection from his vast output, there is music which looks back to Renaissance polyphony, and forwards to the frillier, Rococo style of Haydn’s and Mozart’s masses, or even to the Classical austerity of the latter’s Requiem in the ‘Stabat Mater’ setting which integrates choral, aria, and arioso sections.

That stylistic variety is generally caught pretty well by the forces on this disc, though the choir is captured in slightly dry sound which undermines somewhat the contrast between the ebullience of the ‘Regina coeli’ on the one hand, for example, and the radiance of the (a cappella) ‘Tenebrae factae sunt’ on the other, though it is true that the ensemble tend to keep within a narrow emotional range overall. The former composition is an intriguing marriage of Rococo extravagance in the choral writing with the solemn timbre of sackbuts harking back to the world of Caldara’s Venetian musical forebears, the Gabrielis. Christina Andersson and Nathalie Seelig are the soprano soloists in ‘Haec est Regina virginum’ and ‘Salve Regina’ respectively, conveying the operatic inspiration of these works. Frank Markowitsch exploits the dramatic possibilities of the latter work by ratcheting up the tension for the final section through increasing the tempo slightly to drive the music’s momentum through to the very end. The pounding bass line towards the end of the former work, in the up-to-date Neapolitan operatic style, does not need such emphasis and so Markowitsch refrains from excess.

The selection of works on this disc is linked by the theme of moments in the life of the Virgin Mary: broadly, the first half relates to the Annunciation, and then the birth of Christ, whilst the second half, concentrating on the suffering and death of her son, invites a different sort of musical idiom from Caldara. The chromaticism and complex polyphony of some of the settings are remarkable and bear comparison with few other works of their time – were it not a vocal work, the chains of chromatic harmonies in ‘Laboravi in gemitu meo’ might have come out of Bach’s Musical Offering. The alto, tenor, and bass soloists who constitute the semi-chorus for that piece sound suitably gaunt in tone, though the full ensemble project more drama in the ‘Stabat Mater’. In the latter they are aided by the authoritative contributions from the vocal soloists – particularly in the short arias ‘Tui nati vulnerati’ and ‘Fac ut portem’.

The sumptuous 16-part setting of the Crucifixus stands in the same tradition as the elaborately wrought meditations on that text by Caldara’s Venetian contemporary Antonio Lotti, featured in a recent release from The Syred Consort, though the counterpoint in this setting is even more florid. Caldara treats the texture not as four SATB choirs, but as four groups of four sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses, so there is more the impression of a cascade of sound among these groups, rather than a vast, but integrated aural landscape. It is disappointing that the recorded acoustic is not more spacious, and that Markowitsch does not draw an overarching trajectory from beginning to end, but allows tension to sag not least through some approximate intonation in what should be the climactic section just before a dramatic pause and final cadential flourish.

The pivot between the two halves of the disc is neatly formed by the restrained performance of one of Caldara’s Trio Sonatas, utilising the gentler, sustained timbre of the organ in the continuo part rather than the percussive sound of the harpsichord. Daniel Deuter, Anna Fusek, and Elina Albach draw the music’s Corellian suspensions yearningly and languidly. The liner notes reflect upon the position of the Virgin Mary among the saints and within Catholic liturgy, but it is a shame that they do not give more information about the compositions and their context within Caldara’s life and work. Even so, the performances themselves bear eloquent witness to an underestimated figure of the Baroque period, and so will be of interest to those who are curious about what else was going on in the world of music at the time of Bach and Handel.

Curtis Rogers



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