Movement 1: Introduzione [1'56]
In the eighteenth century the cantata was considered to be the supreme challenge for a composer's artistry. Here are recorded three fine examples from the enormous corpus of such works by Alessandro Scarlatti, two for solo voice with continuo, and one which includes a particularly demanding part for obbligato trumpet, faultlessly played by Crispian Steele-Perkins.
These cantatas are joined by settings of the Salve Regina by Domenico Scarlatti (Alessandro's sixth son) and Johann Adolf Hasse (a pupil). The work by Hasse is distinctly operatic with florid vocal and instrumental lines, and the younger Scarlatti similarly finds himself drawn away from religious deference to a more flamboyant style.
Domenico Scarlatti (1685–1757) Salve regina
The sixth of Alessandro Scarlatti’s ten children, Domenico Scarlatti’s reputation today rests mainly on his enormous output of keyboard music, amounting to some 550 sonatas. Most of his fifteen known operas are lost (and those which survive are rarely heard), as are the majority of his oratorios and cantatas. Domenico’s early compositions, and indeed his whole lifestyle up to the age of thirty-two, were greatly restricted by his father who exercised a quite intolerable degree of interference. It took a legal document in 1717 to free son from domineering father. Most of Domenico’s sacred compositions date from 1713–1719, whilst he was Maestro di Cappella at the Basilica Giulia in Rome and still within this period of parental control.
In his sacred music Domenico showed elements of the harmonic richness and melodic individuality which flood his later keyboard writing, but the main features of his settings of emotive sacred texts are tuneful melodies which mix religious deference with occasional elements of the opera. This readily approachable style is nonetheless underpinned by a sound compositional technique. The fine setting of the Salve regina begins with just such rich harmony and elegance of line, after which comes a dramatic section alternating trumpet-like calls (‘Ad te clamamus’) with more intense grave sections (‘exsules, filii Hevae’). The vocal line returns to more lyrical writing at ‘Eia ergo’, but the upper strings are more playful in their imitation of each other. ‘Nobis post hoc exsilium’ confidently starts with textbook imitation but the mood quietens at ‘ostende’. The most emotive (and individual) writing is reserved for ‘O clemens, o pia’, where Scarlatti’s characteristic use of dissonance and bitter-sweet melody gives rise to music of great beauty before the final ‘Amen’ returns, albeit restrained by its religious context, to a more operatic style.
Alessandro Scarlatti (1660–1725) Cantata Su le sponde del Tebro
The majority of Scarlatti’s cantatas are for solo voice, usually with only continuo for accompaniment. However, contemporary trends increasingly moved towards the addition of instrumental accompaniments, and around sixty of Scarlatti’s cantatas use extra instruments. Three appear on this disc. Usually that instrumental backing is of strings, but occasionally his works also require recorders or trumpets. Su le sponde del Tebro contains a particularly demanding part for obbligato trumpet, playing in a high tessitura which suggests that there was a fine player around with the considerable stamina required to play the arias which partner soprano with trumpet. The story is the classically despondent one of unrequited love, and the form the usual alternation of arias and recitatives prefaced by a short sinfonia. The arias with trumpet are steadfast in their sentiments, and there is a brave (and partly successful) attempt to make the ground bass at ‘Dite almeno’ interesting, but it is the dissonances of the meltingly beautiful aria ‘Infelici miei lumi’ which show Scarlatti at his finest.
Johann Adolf Hasse (1699–1783) Salve regina
Amongst a huge compositional output there are at least thirteen settings of the Salve regina attributed to Hasse. The most famous of these is in A major and was published in London in 1740, but the one recorded here is a later, unpublished version dated 1744. Its style is distinctly operatic, mixing an attractive simplicity of melody with florid instrumental and vocal lines which are always eminently suited to the voice. Gesture too is often to the fore, and the score is liberally sprinkled with changes of dynamics, often pianos interspersed with sudden fortes. The first movement is elegantly melodic, with expressive, melismatic vocal phrases set over an attractive orchestral accompaniment which is reminiscent of Pergolesi. Equally effective is ‘Ad te clamamus’ where detailed string figurations are overseen by a glorious vocal line. The more forthright Allegro setting of ‘Eia ergo advocata’ tests the soloist’s virtuosity with rapid runs. The final movement, ‘Et Jesum, benedictum’, returns to the cantabile vocal style and demonstrates why the diarist Burney described Hasse as ‘the most natural, elegant, and judicious composer of vocal music’.
Alessandro Scarlatti Cantata Infirmata vulnerata
Alessandro Scarlatti Cantata O di Betlemme altera
Robert King © 1996