This collection of 17 Scarlatti harpsichord sonatas isn't systematically compiled, but includes the favorites of harpsichordist and scholar Skip Sempé, and it's a diverse and attractive selection. Citing the strong Spanish influences on Scarlatti's writing, Sempé describes "Duende" as a Spanish term that refers to the mysterious power of an event or activity to move a person into a state of sensory overload, or even transcendence.
Cinque Profeti is a little known Christmas cantata by Alessandro Scarlatti. It has a power and subtlety redolent of Handel coupled with touches of early Monteverdi. Sung here to great effect by the five soloists with sensitive instrumentalists, they play together to bring the gentle and subtle melodies - surely written to confer a sense of the special nature of the Christmas season - to life. It’s a recording which is sure to please. Opera was not performed in Rome for much of Alessandro Scarlatti's lifetime; that's why his vocal church music mostly comprised oratorios and cantatas, of which he wrote three for the Palazzo Apostolico. Only one survives: to a libretto by Silvio Stampiglia. Cinque Profeti takes the inventive form of a conversation between the five old testament prophets, Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Abraham (the cinque profeti) about the birth of Christ – which was about to be celebrated on the occasion of the cantata’s first performance, in 1705 at the Papal Palace in Rome.
Since the very dawn of the compact disc era, Ralph Kirkpatrick's seminal recordings of Domenico Scarlatti have mainly been conspicuous only by their absence from the active catalog. It's hard be sure just why, as all along listeners and reviewers alike have been requesting their return. Kirkpatrick's Bach has been reissued here and there, along with some oddities, including a live, all twentieth century recital Kirkpatrick performed in 1961, released on Music and Arts. But of the Scarlatti, nothing - how could the man who put the "K." in Scarlatti go neglected; were not his performances once considered the acme in Scarlatti played on the harpsichord?
Countertenor Andreas Scholl's new CD is devoted to little-known, late-17th- and early-18th-century cantatas whose subject matter is Arcadia, a real region in Greece, but more frequently evoked as an idyllic place filled with innocent, simple shepherds and shepherdesses. Scholl employs a more operatic tone and attitude than we're accustomed to from countertenors. Not only does he use vibrato and "lean" on the voice, but he dips down, as in the final moments of a cantata by Marcello, into a deep, dark baritone range. The effect is dramatic and apt. Elsewhere his tone is just gorgeous and always expressive, he pays attention to the text of these works and captures the theatrical moment in each. The last movement of a work by Francesco Gasparini is excitingly acrobatic. The Accademia Byzantina is a remarkable "backup" group and they get to play some purely orchestral works as well. This disc is a knockout; enjoy it.–Robert Levine
By the eighteenth century, Palermo-born Alessandro Scarlatti was the most widely performed Italian composer of vocal music having written more than sixty operas and well over a hundred cantatas. The cantata, more concentrated than opera, was considered at that time as the higher artistic form. Scarlatti was extremely prolific and many of his works including cantatas still remain unrecorded.
During his lifetime, from his Neapolitan years to his Spanish sojourn, Domenico Scarlatti cultivated the “cantata” genre, composing at least about sixty works – those of uncertain attribution and his Serenades excluded. Other cantatas are likely to emerge once the uncatalogued funds are systematically scanned. Since in those years the cantata was a genre on the wane, this high number is revealing of Scarlatti’s uninterrupted link with the baroque tradition, an age in which the cantata had reached its climax as an extremely refined genre, the place for daring experimentation, and exquisite writing, the appropriate gym for high craftsmanship, as expected by the elitist audience for which it was intended. The manuscripts date from 1699 to 1724.
Alessandro Scarlatti’s 600-plus cantatas make him one of the more prolific exponents of a form that flourished in Italy in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Though he’s generally credited with standardising cantata form, his early essays in the genre were often imaginatively varied, as is shown by the delectable Arcadian Academy disc. Rather than the usual two or three da capo arias alternating with recitatives, the four secular cantatas here boast opening sinfonias, closing ariosos, large numbers of movements and a range of aria-types. Bella madre dei fiori, for example, experiments with a mix of poetic strophes and instrumental ritornelli. Even so, this formal ingenuity would be of limited interest were it not for Scarlatti’s gifts for attractive melody and sensitive illustration of his texts. Christine Brandes sings these pieces beautifully in a bright, clear-toned voice, and is given adroit, vivacious support by her five colleagues. La Famiglia Scarlatti offers two cantatas and two sonatas by Alessandro, together with a cantata apiece by brother Francesco and son Domenico. These are delightful performances, with Kai Wessel’s mellifluous alto a winning advocate, especially on the captivating Doppo lungo servire, Domenico’s earliest surviving work. Extensive and informative notes are a further bonus.–Graham Lock