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Antonio CALDARA (1670-1736)
Brutus – Cantatas for Bass
Bruto a’ Romani [8:33]
A destar l’alba col canto [11:04]
Il Polifemo [8:14]
Il Dario [11:54]
Partenza amorosa [13:23]
Il Sansone [12:31]
Sergio Foresti (baritone)
Stile Galante/Stefano Aresi
rec. 2018, Schuilkerk De Hoop, Diemen, The Netherlands
Booklet notes with Italian text and English translations
PAN CLASSICS PC10389 [66:22]

The Baroque secular chamber cantata was usually the vehicle for intimate musical expression in a domestic or private setting, treating themes such as the joys and pains of love, and Arcadian landscapes. The selection on this disc by Antonio Caldara – a greatly underestimated composer for voice from the age of Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi – features some rather more public, heroic, or even larger-than-life situations, and so unusually they call for a bass or baritone voice, rather than soprano or alto, as would far more frequently have been employed in such compositions. They stem from a collection of cantatas for bass that seems to have been assembled for Caldara’s patron, Emperor Charles VI, who favoured that voice type – also unusual at a time when castrati were all the rage.
Sergio Foresti has just the vocal aptitude for such compositions, projecting a commanding musical demeanour as the consul Brutus clamouring in a public address for the death of Tarquin, the tyrannical last king of Rome (not the later Brutus who conspired in the assassination of Julius Caesar). Foresti despatches the obsessively repeated call in this cantata “mora Tarquinio, mora!” (“let Tarquin die, let him die!”) with the forceful but controlled rhetoric of a prominent statesman.

The noble suffering of the tragic heroes Darius and Samson comes to the fore in ‘Il Dario’ and ‘Il Sansone’ – the one lamenting his defeat by Alexander the Great and apparent loss of his wife, the other bewailing his fate and contemplating vengeance upon the Philistines. The long, yearning notes of the first aria of ‘Il Dario’ are sympathetically echoed by Agnieszka Oszańca’s expressive playing on the cello as part of the basso continuo, and Foresti’s comparatively lithe tone pays dividends in the precise intonation of the pained ascending chromatic figure which occurs in the second aria. In the recitative which opens ‘Il Sansone’ he conveys a sense of breathless desperation or expectation as he plans the destruction he is about to wreak upon his enemies as well as himself in the Temple.

Foresti carries ably the long sinewy vocal line of some of the music, such as in the last aria of the latter cantata, as well as in the similarly agitated cantata ‘Il Polifemo’ which gives voice to the monstrous cyclops Polyphemus’s frustrations over his unrequited love for the nymph Galatea: the elaborate melody on “tormentarmi” (“to torment me”) in one of its arias are suitably coloured. However, the remaining two cantatas in this programme, dealing with the tender pangs and disappointments of love tend to fare a little less well. Here, Foresti could convey that intimacy more, vary the tone more subtly to sustain interest, and some high notes are a strain, though the lively last aria of ‘Partenza amoroso’ comes off successfully. It is perhaps unsurprising if Foresti identifies less with the generic or unnamed speakers in such cantatas as these than with the better delineated figures from antiquity, myth or the Bible in the others.

The cantatas are sparsely scored for voice and basso continuo alone, the latter realised by cello, theorbo, and harpsichord. Led by Andrea Friggi from the latter instrument, the accompaniment is actively engaging and charismatic in itself, for instance in the jaunty support given to Polyphemus’s last aria, which seems to comment ironically on the cyclops’s call to the furies to torment him. With very little of Caldara’s vast output set down on record, this is a welcome addition to the catalogue, and complements the handful of discs already available showcasing other cantatas sung by higher voices. It is the heroic cantatas here which will be of most interest, standing equal in inspiration to the best scenas of his largely neglected operas. Those familiar with Handel’s and Vivaldi’s cantatas will particularly find much of interest by way of comparison.

Curtis Rogers

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