Niccolò JOMMELLI (1714-1774)
Giusti Numi (Didone Abbandonata) [14:21]
Partir conviene! Addio [23:17]
Perdono amata nice (Gelosia) [16:23]
E quando sara mai che alle mie pene [12:03]
Barbara Kusa (soprano), Lenka Torgersen & Cecilie Valter (violins), Andreas Torgersen (viola), Ilze Grudule (cello), Alena Hönigová (harpsichord & director)
rec. February 2012, St. Pantaleon, Switzerland
Full Italian text and translations in English and German

Jommelli’s reputation remains somewhat in the shadow of other of his contemporaries such as Glück, Pergolesi, and C.P.E. Bach in that period of transition between the Baroque and Classical eras. Jommelli has been to some extent rehabilitated through the revivals of some of his operas in performance and on disc. This release also demonstrates his accomplishments in the development of vocal music on the smaller scale of the secular cantata, although this group of four has been committed to disc before (review).

Barbara Kusa brings ravishing clarity and purity here in the unflagging vitality of Jommelli’s melodies. The resonance of the recorded acoustic also gives her performances an attractive bloom but not too much, and that is matched by her restrained use of vibrato, only bringing that to bear for greater dramatic effect when necessary. She tends to draw a sensible distinction in her musical interpretations between the rhetorical tone for the recitatives, and variously more lyrical or radiant tone for the arias. But in the latter she is alert to the emotions expressed by the text, such as love in the two numbers of Partir conviene! Addio where the phrases ebb and flow into each other like an elegant sigh. Her singing is also beautifully buoyant in the second aria of E quando sera mai che alle mie pene, floating over the silken strings. The one drawback of Kusa’s singing is that her tone can be somewhat thin above a high G.

Four string players, and Alena Hönigová directing from the harpsichord, alone provide the personable accompaniment. Sometimes the first violinist and cellist seem more prominent than the second violinist and violist. Otherwise their playing fills in the character and drama of the cantatas, for example in the way that the scales and arpeggios are virtually thrown across the strings in one section of the cantata which relates the fate of Dido. This disc helps to fill in our knowledge of the development of Italianate vocalism in the period immediately before Mozart and his contemporaries on the operatic scene at the end of the 18th century. It does so enjoyably and not as an academic exercise. It is a small disappointment that Hönigová does not talk about the compositions more in her liner notes, and their context within Jommelli’s output.

Curtis Rogers

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