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Antonio STRADELLA (1639-1682)
Lagrime e Sospiri
Chantal Santon Jeffery (soprano)
Galilei Consort/Benjamin Chénier
Full Italian texts with translations in English and French
rec. 2017, Temple du Bon Secours, Paris
ALPHA CLASSICS 297 [58:05]

Antonio Stradella is an important – and perhaps still overlooked – link between the initial development of Italian opera by the likes of Monteverdi and then Cavalli and Cesti on the one hand, and high opera seria of the next generation on the other. Despite a sizeable body of other vocal and instrumental music, he may be more familiar to some listeners for the lurid details of his personal life, as dramatised partly in Friedrich von Flotow’s stage work, which involved several love affairs, ending in his murder by hired assassins. This disc offers a welcome and more sober opportunity to assess his own contribution to the theatrical genres of opera and oratorio.

Extracts from five such works are given here, interspersed with some bright and adroit readings of their overtures, as well as that to Le gare dell’amore eroico, from Benjamin Chénier and the Galilei Consort. In general Chantal Santon Jefferey sings with great nobility and freshness of voice, full-toned and generous with vibrato in ‘A che tardi a morir, misero core’ from Moro per amore for example, but using less in her more emotionally raw and direct interpretation of the outer two portions of the four given here from La forza dell’amor paterno. In contrast, when treating the Biblical subject of St John the Baptist in ‘Deh che più tardi... Queste lagrime’ she is plangent and yearningly radiant, rather than hysterical, in a high vocal register on assuming the formidable role of Salome; or when taking up the faster middle two extracts from La forza here, her singing comes under no strain at all.

The liner notes rightly argue that the oratorios are effectively religious operas, composed and performed under circumstances that did not permit fully-fledged staging. Those who saw the Guildhall School’s production of San Giovanni Battista in June 2014 will already have witnessed the theatrical possibilities of Stradella’s score, and Santon Jeffery certainly realises the dramatic aspects of the extracts from that work and the other oratorios here. In the two scenes from Santa Pelagia she evokes the ambivalence of the saint as she comes to terms with the luxury and pleasures she has formerly enjoyed, but now seeks to put behind her in order to embrace a life of holiness and modesty. The bright vivacity of her singing for ‘Strugge l’alma’ is followed by an intense focus and control for ‘Quanto mi alletta’ which almost sounds like a different voice. In that oratorio’s overture, Chénier instils a colourful, peppery timbre in his ensemble that surely sums up the saint’s earlier life of richness. Purity and innocence are the marks of the singer’s performance from La Susanna – the figure from the Biblical Apocrypha, who is wrongly accused of adultery – as she asks who will vindicate her.

Santon Jeffery is recorded quite closely, but her voice projects cleanly into the wider acoustic without obscuring the instrumental forces behind her, providing an ideal balance between dramatic spaciousness and immediacy. The one cause for regret is that, with the disc’s running time a little shy of an hour, more extracts are not programmed. Even so, fans of Baroque vocal music should hear this, both for the singer and the engaging repertoire.

Curtis Rogers

Moro per amore
Overture [2:22]
A che tardi a morir, misero core [4:06]
Furie terribili [2:53]
Col mio sangue comprarei… Per pietà [5:28]
San Giovanni Battista
Overture [1:57]
Deh che più tardi... Queste lagrime [6:50]

Le gare dell’amor eroico
Overture [1:13]

La forza dell’amor paterno
O morire o libertà [3:00]
Ferma, regina, ascolta... Morirò [2:03]
Presto, corri ad armarti!... Non vedi che giove [1:26]
Lasso, che feci [4:31]

Santa Pelagia
Overture [3:58]
Strugge l'alma [5:23]
Quanto mi alletta... Sono i crini aurati stami [3:39]

La Susanna
Overture [2:05]
Da chi spero aita, o cieli [7:08]



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