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Giovanni Lorenzo LULIER (c.1660-1700)
Cantate e Sonate for Cardinal Ottoboni (1690-1700)
Amor, di che tu vuoi, per soprano, violoncello e basso continuo [11:14]
Sonata in D, per violino, violoncello e basso continuo [7:46]
Ferma alato pensier, per soprano, [violoncello] e basso continuo (1693) [17:26]
Sonata in F, per violoncello e basso continuo [4:45]
Là, dove a Pafo in seno, per soprano, violino, basso continuo [8:30]
La Didone, per soprano e basso continuo: Già del empio tiranno (c.1692) [8:35]
Francesca Boncompagni (soprano)
Accademia Ottoboni/Marco Ceccato (cello)
rec. 2017, San Francesco Church, Cori (Italy)
Texts and translations included
Reviewed as lossless press preview.
ALPHA 406 [54:16]

Lulier is not exactly a household name with masses of recordings to his credit, so it’s somewhat surprising to see Marco Ceccato and Alpha competing with themselves in the only other recording of Amor, di che tu vuoi, the first aria of which they recorded in an arrangement for cello ensemble on an album of music composed for Cardinals Pamphili and Ottoboni (Il violoncello del Cardinale, Alpha ALPHA368 – review review). The (very good) 16- and 24-bit downloads from eclassical.com of that earlier recording are no longer available – vanished from their site along with all the other Alpha recordings – but they can be streamed, with booklet, by subscribers from Naxos Music Library. In view of David Barker’s comments about the lack of variety, streaming rather than purchase of the CD or download might be the best option in this case.

The Fra Bernardo recording La Gloria, Roma e Valore, which includes Lulier’s Componimento drammatico and Corelli’s Concerto, Op.6/2, is now download only in the UK, though Amazon have two copies of the CD left and it remains available from ArkivMusic (FB1505643 – review). Subscribers can stream, with booklet, from Naxos Music Library; as heard from there, I’m entirely in agreement with Johan van Veen’s enthusiasm for the music and performance and his criticism that there is still no English translation of the libretto on the Fra Bernardo website.

That would be my first recommendation for getting to know Lulier’s music, but the new Alpha is not far behind. One advantage is that it mixes vocal and instrumental works, which helps relieve the lack of variety. It’s especially important when Lulier was known as master of the violone, i.e. the cello, that the music is performed here most ably by Marco Ceccato, director of the Accademia Ottoboni. It’s one of the glories of the Alpha label that it’s hard to decide whether to prefer their recording of Vivaldi’s cello sonatas (Alpha ALPHA325 – review) to their rival from Bruno Cocset and Les Basses Réunies (ALPHA313). Both come on inexpensive Alpha reissues.  At least, Ceccato and his team have the field to themselves in the case of the new Lulier CD.

Don’t try to compare the instrumental sonatas with the best music of the period, such as Corelli’s Op.5 Sonatas and Op.6 Concertos (The Avison Ensemble, Linn, a good place to start, CKD412 and CKR411 respectively, both 2-CD collections), but the prominent cello part at least makes the Lulier works interestingly different.

Nor should you compare the secular cantatas with the masterpieces which Handel composed, also for the highest circles in Rome, just a little later. In their own right they are little gems and they receive persuasive performances from Francesca Boncompagni, whose role in the Boccherini Stabat Mater (Brilliant Classics) impressed Michael Cookson – review. As in the sonatas, the cello is prominent in the accompaniment, with Ceccato doing his stuff to fine effect.

The most dramatic of the cantatas here is La Didone. Unlike Purcell’s heroine, who expires at peace in the beautiful ‘Let me be laid in earth’, this Dido rages like Virgil’s original. The Purcell aria is beautiful but its tone is untrue to its classical model; for starters, Virgil’s Dido had prepared her own funeral pyre, so no question of being laid in earth. The words of the cantata neatly summarise the contents of Dido’s last speeches – several of them in Virgil. Just one example: Dido accuses Æneas of having been begotten by the rough Caucasus mountains on hard rocks (duris genuit te cautibus horrens / Caucasus) then, a few lines later, wishes that he will founder on the rocks in the middle of the sea, soaking up his punishment and calling upon the name of Dido (spero equidem mediis … / supplicia hausurum scopulis et nomine Dido / saepe vocaturum.) The librettist seems to have remembered these lines when Dido compares Æneas to a rock and herself to the sea, though Vrgil uses two different Latin words for rock (Egli è scoglio ed io son mare).

More importantly, Boncompagni captures the drama of Dido’s rage without becoming over-histrionic and without compromising the beauty of her singing, bringing to a fitting conclusion an album which, while I can’t claim it as vital even for dedicated fans of the music of the period, is very enjoyable. As usual, if you are not sure if this is for you, try it if you can from Naxos Music Library, where you can also find the pdf booklet.

The recording is a little bright, but generally serves the performances well. The best music of this period is to be found in the works of Arcangelo Corelli and his followers, but albums from the likes of Adrian Chandler and La Serenissima have taught us to appreciate the contemporaries of Corelli by placing his music in context with theirs ( The Italian Job, Avie AV2371, a case in point). If the new recording is less essential than the Avie, the quality of the performances make it well worth exploring.

Brian Wilson



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