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Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725)
La Gloria di Primavera (1716)
Primavera – Diana Moore (mezzo-soprano);
Estate – Suzana Ograjenšek (soprano);
Autunno – Clint van der Linde (countertenor);
Inverno – Nicholas Phan (tenor);
Giove – Douglas Williams (baritone)
Philharmonia Chorale/Bruce Lamott (director)
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra/Nicholas McGegan,
rec. live First Congregational Church, Berkeley, California, 4 and 10 October, 2015. DSD
5.1 surround or 2.0 LPCM stereo, 24/192.
First recording of newly-discovered 300 year-old serenata.
Texts not included but available online.

This recently rediscovered grand serenata was commissioned by the Duke of Naples in honour of his wife and to celebrate the birth of Emperor Charles VI’s son, Prince John Leopold. Scarlatti senior wrote the piece within a few weeks and it was performed to audiences in Naples immediately following the birth. Unfortunately, just months after La Gloria di Primavera was first performed, the celebrated infant died and the work was forgotten apart, apparently, for a revival in 1825. We have had individual arias before but this is the first complete recording and I imagine that it may well reign unchallenged for some time.

The recording has already been reviewed as issued on a 2-CD set by Johan van Veen – link above. Please note that the Blu-ray offers audio only, in stereo or surround sound, and that unlike hybrid SACDs there’s no extra layer for playing on CD players.

Though billed as ‘The Glory of Spring’, the work, which was probably semi-staged – we know that there were sumptuous sets and probably a contrivance for Jove to descend ex machina – is actually a debate among the seasons and what each brings. When Jove is called upon to legislate, unsurprisingly he chooses the Spring and hails the young prince as the embodiment of hope for the world – this was the immediate aftermath of the Treaty of Utrecht, the hoped for harbinger of European peace.

Nicholas McGegan keeps the music moving – unlike Johan van Veen I wouldn’t have wished for faster tempi, even in Part II – and he is well supported by the members of his Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra whose recordings have earned praise in these pages, most recently in the case of the recording of Haydn Symphonies Nos. 57, 67 and 68 – reviewreview.

The soloists are all considerably more than adequate but I find myself at odds with those who, reviewing live performances, have praised Diana Moore in the role of Spring. Perhaps her voice comes over better in the concert hall, but I found it consistently a little too plummy to be ideal. I see that Johan van Veen also disapproved of her wide vibrato. It’s not only a matter of personal taste – I liked her in the Hyperion recording of Handel’s Parnasso in Festa (review) and a Monteverdi selection on Vivat (review) – her wide vibrato here is out of place in a role which was originally sung by the ‘nightingale of Naples’.

Conversely I have seen some criticism of the male voices but I found these, like Suzana Ograjenšek as Summer, very acceptable.

The Blu-ray format not only brings us the music in improved sound, it also obviates an awkward break between the two CDs. At $29.99 it sells for exactly the same price as the CD set: it wasn’t yet available on Blu-ray in the UK when I wrote the review, so I can’t do a comparison but the CDs sell for around ú16 and the 24-bit download from, with pdf booklet, costs ú31.99.

Johan van Veen had some complaints about the editing of the booklet but at least he had one with the CDs. The Blu-ray comes with the scrappiest ‘booklet’ that I have ever seen – a flimsy 4-page fold with track and cast listings and a reminder to use the red button on your remote for surround sound and the yellow button for stereo. The 54-page booklet is available online but in a fairly small format and there seems to be no way to save or print it for reference. Fortunately subscribers to Naxos Music Library will find a more accessible, savable and printable, version there. Once obtained, the notes are informative and though the libretto is cloying by modern standards – we’ve heard too many promises of ‘peace in our time’ - it deserves to be available.

On the same subject, there’s a lossless download of Alessandro Scarlatti’s oratorio HumanitÓ e Lucifero and La Maddalena: il Trionfo della Gratia performed by Europa Galante and Fabio Biondi from (Na´ve OP20013) which is highly recommendable in every way except for the lack of the booklet containing the libretto. The music is dramatic, the performance is excellent, the soloists (Gloria Banditelli, Rossana Bertini, Massimo Crispi and Silvia Piccollo) are if anything better than McGegan’s, the sound is very good and the price reasonable but the lack of a libretto is more than annoying – and all too common with downloads. Fortunately the original Opus 111 booklet of HumanitÓ is available: Naxos Music Library to the rescue again. Two Corelli sonatas, Op.3/3 and Op.4/1 provide variety as interludes in HumanitÓ. There’s an online pdf version of the original imprint of La Maddalenahere.

A new recording of Alessandro Scarlatti from Arcana couples his Missa Defunctorum (Requiem) with his 5-part Magnificat, Salve Regina and Miserere performed by Odhecaton and Paolo da Col (A398). I’m planning to review that and do some more catching up with past releases of his music in the near future.

A slightly modified welcome, then, for La Gloria di Primavera. I might be inclined to go for the Na´ve set of the two oratorios first, but the Philharmonia Baroque release is also well worth having whether on CD or Blu-ray. If the latter becomes available in the UK for around the same price as the CDs, as it is in the USA, the sound quality makes that the preferred option despite the lack of notes and libretto.

Brian Wilson

Previous review (CD): Johan van Veen


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