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Lux in tenebris - Liturgy and devotion in 18th century Naples
Gennaro MANNA (1715-1779)
Lamentazione III del Giovedì Santo a voce sola di soprano con violini [16:43]
Francesco FEO (1691-1761)
La sinderesi, Cantata a voce sola di soprano [13:10]
Gaetano MANNA (1751-1804)
Lamentazione II del Giovedì Santo a voce sola di soprano [16:49]
Gennaro MANNA
Gloria Patri a voce sola con violini [4:18]
Silvia Frigato (soprano)
Talenti Vulcanici/Emanuele Cardi
rec. 2015, Chiesa della Missione ai Vergini, Naples, Italy
Texts and translations included
ARCANA A437 [51:01]

The title of the present disc does not immediately make clear what the music performed here is about. The tracklist is more informative: the main items are settings of verses from the Lamentations of Jeremiah. Such pieces are traditionally performed during the triduum sacrum, the last three days before Easter: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. During the renaissance numerous settings of these texts were written, but in the baroque era composers seem to have lost their interest. Only in France was the performance of such pieces, known as Leçons de Ténèbres, at all popular during the 17th and 18th centuries. The best-known composers of this kind of pieces are Marc-Antoine Charpentier and François Couperin.

However, in recent years several discs have been released with Lamentations by composers from Naples. This kind of music was apparently quite popular there, and some of the main composers from this city contributed to the genre. The best-known of them were Alessandro Scarlatti and Francesco Durante. Others, such as Cristofaro Caresana, Gaetano Veneziano and Gennaro Manna, were composers of fame in their time, but are largely marginal figures in today's musical programmes. The latter is one of the composers represented in the programme, together with two others, to whom he was related.

The oldest of the three is Francesco Feo, who was born in Naples and also died there. He received his first musical education at the Conservatorio di S. Maria della Pietà dei Turchini. Very quickly he started to make a name for himself as a composer of operas, and also contributed arias and scenes to operas by other composers. Feo was also active as a composer of sacred music, most of which was written between 1723 and 1743. He composed music in all then common genres, such as oratorios, masses, vesper psalms, cantatas and lamentations. In 1791, the German theorist Johann Friedrich Reichardt considered him "one of the greatest of all composers of church music in Italy".

The title of the solo cantata included here is rather unusual. Synderesis is a term derived from scholastic philosophy and means, as Lucio Tufano puts it in his liner-notes, "man's natural capacity for distinguishing good from evil". La sinderesi is a cantata for solo voice and basso continuo and has been preserved in two versions: one for soprano and one for alto. It comprises two arias, each preceded by a recitative. The recitatives are quite dramatic; the first includes the lines: "Am I indeed so guilty and wretched that I must lead my woeful life amongst continuous affliction?" In the first aria the cello has an obbligato part, and there is a strong contrast in Affekt between the first and the dramatic second section. The second aria is of a more lyrical nature.

Gennaro Manna was the son of one of Feo's sisters. He studied at the Neapolitan Conservatorio di S. Onofrio a Capuana where his uncle was primo maestro. He is mainly known for his operas; unlike other Neapolitan composers he never composed comedies but rather concentrated on opera seria. Manna's oeuvre also includes a considerable number of sacred works; György Vashegyi has recorded the Responsories for Holy Week (Hungaroton, 2010). Last year Christophorus released a disc with lamentations by Italian composers of the 18th century. It included the third set of lamentations for Good Friday by Manna, performed by Miriam Feuersinger and Il Dolce Conforto (see review). It is nice to have another of his settings here: the third set for Maundy Thursday. The Hebrew letters are set in the form of ariosos rather than vocalises, as was the custom in the 17th century. Sometimes they are added to the previous verse. Some of the verses are set as recitatives, either accompanied or secco (with basso continuo alone). The second verse ends with a cadenza. Although the influence of opera is undeniable, this setting has a strong amount of solemnity.

Very different is the second Lamentations for Maundy Thursday by Gaetano Manna, Gennaro's nephew. He studied at S Maria di Loreto and in 1778 became maestro di cappella of the SS Annunziata, Naples, when his uncle Gennaro retired from the position in his favour. He also served as secondo maestro of Naples Cathedral. His lamentations are in the galant idiom. They are more formally split into different sections. The Hebrew letters are mostly written in the form of ariosos, but in two he returns to the old-fashioned vocalise. The verses are set as arias; they last between three and four minutes. If one listened to them without knowing the text one would not guess that they are written on texts from the Lamentations of Jeremiah. This may have a kind of alienating effect. However, Manna does not miss the opportunity to depict the words "falsa et stulta" (false and worthless) in 'Prophetae tui'.

At the end, the programme returns to Gennaro Manna, with an aria on the text "Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto", part of the doxology which ends so many Psalms and liturgical chants. It is a beautiful piece in two sections, each of which ends with a cadenza.

This is a most interesting disc with pieces which are probably recorded here for the first time. They show that there is still much to discover in the field of Neapolitan sacred music. There is more to Neapolitan music for Passiontide than Pergolesi's Stabat mater. It would be nice if performers would turn their attention to lesser-known pieces rather than perform and record Pergolesi's work ad nauseam. Silvio Frigato deserves much praise for the way she performs these works. She has a nice voice and produces a pleasant and warm sound. Her singing is very flexible, which is needed for the ornamentation, either written out by the composers or added by herself. She pays much attention to the text, and the recitatives are sung in truly speech-like manner. Now and then she uses a little too much vibrato, but I found it hardly disturbing. The instrumentalists do a good job here as well.

This is definitely a disc to investigate, if you want to add something uncommon to your collection of music for Passiontide.

Johan van Veen



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