Alessandro Scarlatti formed the bridge between the rich vocal style of the Italian Baroque masters of the 17th century and the gallant style of Mozart and his contemporaries. San Filippo Neri is grand and Oratorio in Handelian style, full of dramatic arias and striking instrumental effects. Excellent performance on authentic instruments by the specialist group Alessandro Stradella Consort, conducted by Estevan Velardi.
With this exciting release, Fabio Biondi, the outstanding Europa Galante, and a cast led by stars Véronique Gens and Vivica Genaux strike a decisive blow for Alessandro Scarlatti's obscure Oratorio per la Santissima Trinità. Old-fashioned even in its day, the work is a musicalized instructional debate about the mysteries of the Holy Trinity between the allegorical personae of Faith, Theology, Faithlessness, Time, and Divine Love. If you're asleep already, it's for good reason. The libretto is the definition of dry – boring both for its rhetorical contrivance and its verbosity. But before you run for the nearest exit, know that Scarlatti responded to this uninspired mess of ideological bickering with outstanding music, entertaining from beginning to end. Drawing only on a small ensemble of strings and continuo, he created an improbably diverse-sounding score full of infectious rhythms, appealing vocal melodies, and rich textures. The recitatives are lavished with the same melodic care and detail as the arias and ensembles, and the personality of each character is etched into his music. Listening, one might think the plot revolves around a love affair, or a social intrigue. Certainly not wave upon wave of phrases like "One cannot believe it, but only raise one's eyebrows in stupefaction." In other words, if you can ignore the text it's an immensely fun listen, and a great example of the stylistic fluidity of Scarlatti's music in 1715.
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.
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