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Niccolò JOMMELLI (1714-1774)
Bajazette (1753): Fra il mar turbato [5:13]
La Clemenza di Tito (1753): Se mai senti spirarti sul volto [10:39]
La Passione di Nostro Signore Gesú Cristo (1749): Come a vista [7:08]
Cantata per la Natività della Beatissimo Vergine (1750): Pastor son’io [9:08]
Sinfonia a due violine e basso [6:56]
Lamentazioli per il Mercoledi Santo (c1751): O vos omnes [3:18]
La Passione di Nostro Signore Gesú Cristo (1749): Ritornerà fra voi [4:53]
La Schiava Liberata (1768): Parto, ma la speranza [3:25]
Pelope (1755): Salda rupe [10:13]
Filippo Mineccia (counter-tenor)
Nereydas/Javier Ulises Illán
rec. Sala Gayarre (Teatro Real de Madrid) and Concert Hall of Escuela Municipal de Música de Pinto, Madrid, May and December 2014
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
PAN CLASSICS PC10352 [61:01]

Niccolò Jommelli was born the same year as Christoph Willibald Gluck, the opera reformer. Jommelli is regarded by some scholars as of equal importance for his reform work. Like Gluck he took exception to the prevailing fashion of writing virtuoso arias for the sake of virtuosity and the singers’ wish to show off. He wanted dramatic truth and learnt from his teacher and mentor Hasse to write recitatives with orchestra accompaniment and not just a harpsichord. He raised the importance of the orchestra and wrote passages for the orchestra alone. He gave it a more focused role also in the arias, often employing wind instruments to illustrate the proceedings of the plot. He also wrote ensemble numbers and choruses and, influenced by Rameau, introduced ballet music into his operas. I have not been able to find any information that he actually met Gluck, but he visited Vienna in the early 1750s at a time when Gluck was also active there. An interesting fact is that Jommelli set Metastasio’s libretto La clemenza di Tito in 1753; Gluck had set it the year before.

The present all-Jommelli disc is welcome, but considering the advances Jommelli made, it is a pity that we can’t have more examples of his achievements in this field. I hope that one day some adventurous company will issue a complete opera by Jommelli, or at least a collection of arias, accompanied recitatives and ensembles. Let me add at once that this is a humble wish for the future; I don’t want in any way to belittle the present issue — quite the contrary.

The very first number, from Bajazette, opens with a riveting orchestral introduction that makes us realize that his handling of the orchestra is very dramatic indeed. The stormy sea that is depicted in the text can be heard also in the orchestra with gushes of waves wallowing against the endangered ship. The aria is dramatic, and there is some virtuoso singing here but it is not over-decorated and concentrates on the actual dramatic situation. Filippo Mineccia has a strong, dramatic voice with beautiful tone. This is even more conspicuous in the following aria, Sesto’s long adagio from the aforementioned La clemenza di Tito. What is also more prominent is his habit of beginning a sustained tone without vibrato and then expanding to a more vibrant tone. This is not criticism, just a description of a phenomenon. The aria is very beautiful and can stand comparison with both Gluck and Mozart.

Jommelli wrote some sixty operas but also a substantial number of sacred works. The noble andante aria Come a vista from the oratorio La Passione di Cristo, was written for the Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome in 1749 and for many years was performed every year in Rome. He also composed the Cantata per la Natività della Beatissima Vergine and Speranza’s aria, beautiful and noble, has an active orchestra which also plays long ritornellos between the various sections of this long aria.

The Sinfonia a due violine e basso has four short movements. The first with some powerful sudden accents. The second is a fugue followed by a beautiful largo. It is rounded off with a gently swinging allegro.

Two more pieces of sacred music follow, both written for Rome around 1750.

The two concluding opera arias are from the period 1753 – 1768, when he was Kapellmeister to Duke Karl Eugen of Württemberg in Stuttgart. Salda rupe from Pelope was written early in this period (1755) while Parto ma la speranza from La Schiava Liberata was his very last work for Stuttgart–Ludwigsburg (1768) before he returned to Naples. In Ludwigsburg, incidentally, he met father and son Mozart in 1763.

All four arias are first class examples of his art. Ritornerà fra voi is certainly from an oratorio but it has the verve and intensity of something from an opera. The final number, Salda rupe, is highly dramatic with an intense introduction from the orchestra and a surprising amount of virtuoso coloratura.

The whole programme is delicious and considering Jommelli’s greatness during his lifetime, this is a great tribute to his art. A sign of this is that on the façade of Opéra Garnier in Paris his name is to be found although with his name spelled with only one M.

Filippo Mineccia and Nereyda conducted by Javier Ulises Illán are truly great Jommelli advocates and I do hope that they will come up with a volume 2. Why not a programme along the lines I have sketched out above.

A lot of wonderful work has been done lately to revive music by largely forgotten baroque or early classicist composers. This is a further issue in this rescue campaign and it has to be applauded heartily. No lover of baroque opera should miss it.

Göran Forsling



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