Alessandro Scarlatti is justly famed for his contributions to Read more opera seria and cantata, and indeed it may even be said that he was one of the main progenitors of the Neapolitan style of the early 18th century. In Naples and earlier in Rome he was obligated to write a considerable amount of sacred music, much of it for smaller settings that would be useful in the local churches. Since his music is now becoming more common on disc, it is good to have this recording of a set of four pieces—a gradual, a Marian antiphon, a motet, and a Psalm—all of which reflect rather different approaches to each portion of the liturgy and yet contain a certain commonality in form and structure. Interspersed within these, and no doubt both to provide a transition between then and to fill out the disc, are three organ works, two of which are of substantial length. Given that Scarlatti’s pieces for this instrument are not common, their appearance here is a real treat.
From the earliest planning stages for this recording, Andreas Scholl had only one orchestra in mind: the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. It's no surprise that Decca was skittish about the idea–there are, after all, many good baroque-instrument bands much closer to London–yet the star countertenor insisted that his rapport with this group was special and that it would be well worth the trouble to make the record in Sydney. Well, from the very first notes, it's clear that Scholl was right: conductor Paul Dyer and the ABO launch into the opening of Nisi Dominus with an energetic gusto that you'd sooner expect from Rinaldo Alessandrini's Concerto Italiano than from an Anglo-Saxon band. Scholl responds in kind: his vocalism is as smooth, clear, and assured as ever, but he goes beyond that–his innumerable subtle inflections of tone and timing are more reminiscent of a good orator than an opera singer. The up-tempo arias are exciting, with high-precision coloratura; Clarae stellae, a cheerful solo motet that lacks flashy vocal fireworks, gets a wonderfully insouciant little bounce. Yet the real magic is in the soft, slow arias, where Scholl and his colleagues create an almost palpable sense of wonder (slightly tinged with tension) and hold a listener in thrall as surely as an expert storyteller. Let's hope these artists make more recordings together–and that (with luck) they'll all be as marvelous as this one. –Matthew Westphal
Stabat Mater is a 13th-century Roman Catholic hymn to Mary. It has been variously attributed to the Franciscan Jacopone da Todi and to Innocent III. There are two Stabat Mater hymns, one the Stabat Mater Dolorosa is about the Sorrows of Mary, the other, Stabat Mater Speciosa joyfully refers to the Nativity of Jesus. The title of the sorrowful hymn is an incipit of the first line, Stabat mater dolorosa ("The sorrowful mother stood"). The joyful hymn refers to "The beautiful mother stood". The Dolorosa hymn, one of the most powerful and immediate of extant medieval poems, meditates on the suffering of Mary, Jesus Christ's mother, during his crucifixion. It is sung at the liturgy on the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows…
Antonio Vivaldi's probably early Nisi Dominus, RV 608, and Stabat Mater, RV 621, both for solo voice and ensemble, have received several top-notch recordings, so the listener can pick on the basis of voice type and stylistic preference. Countertenor David Daniels has essayed the pair with Fabio Biondi and his Europa Galante ensemble, and you can hear the preternaturally rich contralto Sara Mingardo in a reading with the fiery Italian Baroque specialist Rinaldo Alessandrini. Here you get a countertenor, Philippe Jaroussky, in the Nisi Dominus and a female contralto, Canadian Marie-Nicole Lemieux, in the Stabat Mater. The pairing robs the whole of unity at one level, but makes musical sense; the Nisi Dominus is a more athletic work that benefits from the power of the male voice, while the Stabat Mater, especially in Vivaldi's truncated and highly dramatic setting, may require the audience to identify with a female singer. In the event, Jaroussky is nothing short of sublime in slow sections like the "Cum dederit" (track 4), a masterpiece of quiet tension whose effects are amplified by the extreme, almost respiratory sensitivity of the Ensemble Matheus under director Jean-Christophe Spinosi. Hardly less effective is Lemieux, with an extremely emotional reading in which she seems to mean every word. A bonus on this disc not present on the others is a little Crucifixus from the Credo in G major, RV 592, featuring both singers and well placed in the middle of the program. Superb examples of Baroque vocal art all around, with sound that captures the subtlety and the full dynamic range of the music, which at times gets very hushed indeed.(James Manheim)
German poet and musician Oswald von Wolkenstein (circa 1377-1445) made sure his legacy was secure by having his works compiled into collections during his lifetime. While he was certainly the author of the texts, it is less clear how many of the pieces, which number over 130, include his original music, and how many had his texts applied to preexisting works. In any case, it's an intriguing and attractive body of work, and this collection of 18 of his pieces, plus three other works, makes a fine introduction to his legacy.
Certainly the somber beauty of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater for soprano, alto, and strings has a lot to do with its popularity. But it must be said that the story of the 26-year-old composer completing the work on his deathbed has always been too romantic for the public–or the music business–to resist. "The instant his death was known," wrote the famous 18th-century traveler Dr. Burney, "all Italy manifested an eager desire to hear and possess his productions." And so it's been ever since. In spite of the competition already on the market, it seems Decca just had to get its prize lyric soprano and hotshot young countertenor together to record the piece. –Matthew Westphal
When the music of Vivaldi was rediscovered, about fifty years ago, only his instrumental music was performed. It took some time to discover that the master of the Italian concerto had also composed religious music worth performing and recording. Since then some of his religious compositions have reached considerable popularity. Among Vivaldi's religious output there are quite a number of works for the Vesper liturgy. 'Dixit Dominus', a setting of Psalm 110 (109), is one of them. So far two settings of this text by Vivaldi are known, RV 594 and 595. The RV number of the setting recorded here seems to show that it is a late discovery and was only recently added to the catalogue although the booklet doesn't quite make clear whether this piece was known before or was only discovered recently. It is clear, though, that it wasn't immediately recognized as a composition by Vivaldi, as in the manuscript it was attributed to Baldassare Galuppi. In the 1750s or 1760s the Roman-Catholic court in Dresden was looking for new religious music from Italy. Scores were ordered from the best-known copying shop in Venice, which was owned by a priest, Don Giuseppe Baldan. He sent some pieces by Vivaldi, but attributed them to Baldassare Galuppi, by then the most famous composer in Venice, and generally known by his nickname, 'Buranello'. This 'Dixit Dominus' was only identified as a work by Vivaldi in 2005 by the Australian scholar Janice Stockigt. It is one of four compositions by Vivaldi from the Sächsische Staatsbibliothek in Dresden which are falsely attributed to Galuppi.
The German seventeenth- and early eighteenthcentury Lied is an area of baroque music still comparatively unexplored by singers and record companies. In the mid 1950s Archiv were first in the field with two excellent LPs of songs by Adam Krieger, perhaps the greatest composer of German continuo Lieder (11/55 – nla) and Hans Valentin Rathgeber and Johann Caspar Seyfert (8/57 – nla). Much more recently, Cantus Can recorded a programme of songs by Heinrich Albert which I reviewed in June 1992; otherwise, apart from mixed programmes which might have included a song or two by Johann Philipp Krieger, Telemann or Görner, there has been little or nothing. That is, until now, with the appearance of this fine recital by the countertenor Andreas Scholl.