Alessandro Scarlatti wrote over 600 cantatas, two of which are on this 1987 disc performed by soprano Lynne Dawson and the Purcell Quartet: Correa nel seno amato and Già lusingato appieno. He wrote considerably less keyboard music – and next to nothing compared with the gargantuan achievement of his son Domenico – one of which is on this disc performed by Robert Woolley, the harpsichordist of the Purcell Quartet: the Variations on La Folia. With the chamber cantatas flanking the keyboard variations, this disc is a wonderful program of the elder Scarlatti's art. Though there are some who might argue English soprano Dawson is perhaps too reserved for this repertoire, none would argue that she doesn't have a clear voice and a supple technique. And while there are others who might argue the Purcell Quartet is perhaps too stringent for the repertoire, none would argue they don't play together with consummate ease and they don't accompany Dawson with brilliant mastery. But there are few who would disparage Woolley's blindingly virtuosic and blazingly demonic La Folia Variations.
Gemma Bertagnolli is widely considered one of the leading sopranos in Early Music. Her voice is powerful, lyrical and passionate, always conveying the emotional message of the text. On this recording she joins Collegium Pro Musica and Stefano Bagliano in Cantatas for soprano, recorder and continuo, brilliant works displaying vocal and instrumental virtuosity.
The two works on this disc perfectly illustrate a particular type of secular cantata, the so-called ‘dramma per musica’. In such works the libretto is constructed dramatically, and the singers embody various roles, such as gods and other characters from antiquity, and allegorical figures. The parallel with opera is apparent, although the ‘drammi per musica’ do without any scenic element. Bach primarily used the form in works intended for princely tributes or academic festivities: educated audiences could be expected to recognize the characters and literary traditions involved.
Mendelssohn’s Psalm Cantatas are small scale works for vocal soloists, choir and orchestra, based on well known psalms, expressing the general emotional content of the psalm in dramatic and romantic musical language. The writing is firmly rooted in the German choral tradition, no wonder for a composer who revived Bach’s Matthäus Passion in his time.
In the 17th and the early 18th centuries there were ample opportunities to work as a musician in Germany. Many cities and aristocratic courts had their own chapels. The best musicians were expected to compose instrumental music, music for special occasions like birthdays and weddings, sometimes operas and, of course, religious works. As most music was performed only once and compositions were considered old-fashioned within about ten years, there was a continuous demand for new music. Against this background it is hardly surprising that some of the composers of the 17th and 18th centuries have so far escaped the attention of modern scholars and performers.