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.
The German chamber ensemble Epoca Barocca’s seventh recording on the CPO label is a turn in a new direction, after six repertoire albums devoted to German composers, including Telemann, Hasse, Heinichen, Schaffrath, and Fasch, and a wonderful disc devoted to the underrated Giovanni Benedetto Platti, an Italian who spent most of his professional life in Würzburg. On their newest venture, simply titled Italian Love Cantatas , they team up with Italian soprano Silvia Vajente to present an attractive sampling of Italian chamber cantatas, mostly with obbligato instruments. Some of the music on this album, especially the last movement of the Vivaldi and the Neapolitan works by Mancini and Scarlatti, is pleasant but ordinary. However, the range of color, affect, and emotion achieved by Vajente and the ensemble adds so much depth and beauty that the effect is Baroque chamber music at its most intimate and satisfying.
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.