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Hyperion Records

CDH88025 - Concertos for the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies

Recording details: March 1988
Il Palazzo Gangi, Palermo, Sicily, Italy
Produced by Ben Turner
Engineered by Tryggvi Tryggvason
Release date: April 1989
Total duration: 54 minutes 38 seconds

Concertos for the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies
Adagio  [1'56]
Andante giusto  [1'44]
Adagio  [1'53]
Andante moderato  [2'04]
Allegro  [1'00]
Allegro  [1'51]
Largo  [1'00]
Affettuoso  [2'44]
Un poco andante  [2'00]
Allegro  [1'34]
Andante  [2'28]
Amoroso  [2'36]
Allegro  [1'38]
The city of Naples first rose to notoriety under the ‘Gothic’ rule of the Angevins (1266–1443) when its most celebrated representative, King Robert, filled his court with cosmopolitans. The poet Boccaccio tells us that many found a joie de vivre in Naples—‘gay, flourishing and peaceful under a single sovereign’—preferring it to the free but harassed Republic of Florence. It was, however, under the Spanish Viceroys, headed by Pedro de Toledo in 1536, that Naples began to assume its theatrical style, such as we know today. The character of the Spaniards, with their intense religiosity and the importance they attached to pomp and ceremony, was attuned to the Neapolitans. There reigned a kind of peace, nurtured by wealth and grandeur, perhaps because the noblemen took pleasure in competing with each other. There was employment for artists of all kinds and many of the seventeenth-century sculptor-architects came from Northern Italy. Similarly, early in the eighteenth century, composers headed for the colourful South—the city had already become a centre of the musical world.

In 1707 Naples succumbed to Austrian rule, thus joining the rest of Italy, but then in 1734 the Bourbon Prince Charles succeeded in establishing the city as the capital of an independent kingdom. Don Carlos, the Infante, declared that his sole aim was to bring happiness and prosperity to Naples, and no historian can deny that the ‘Two Sicilies’ were happier then than they had been for many centuries. But Charles was not a patron of the arts; indeed he positively disliked opera. Probably because he was obliged to attend performances, he built the largest of all contemporary opera houses, the Teatro San Carlo. But for music, and indeed all the arts, was the political stability he fostered an incentive to creativity, or was the Golden Age nearing its end?

In 1672 the Scarlatti family had moved to Palermo from Rome. Alessandro Scarlatti (born Palermo 1660, died Naples 1725) began studies, allegedly with Carissimi. In 1682 he moved to Naples where he was in demand as a composer for aristocratic entertainment, but apparently the city irked him so he returned temporarily to Rome. Here, however, the Pope had banned operatic music and in the end Naples was the place where his genius found an outlet. Indeed, his many innovations in the field of opera contribute to the whole history of music. Scarlatti pioneered a monodic style based on the modern tonal system. In his early works he still worked polyphonically but his thinking was melodic. In later operas he was obliged by fashion to forego the forms derived from a ground bass in favour of extended melody, and in his instrumental works we can indeed hear this transition. For example, the flute in the C minor Sinfonia adds another line to the contrapuntal texture but is at the same time ornamental and expressive. In the Concerto, the solo instruments often just interpolate fragments of the same material as the tutti group, and the juxtaposition is dramatic by its brevity. The fugal Allegro looks back in time, but the last movement, in fact a dance, uses changing tonalities to great effect and closes in the minor mode.

Born near Ancona, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (born Jesi 1710, died Pozzuoli 1736) was sent to Naples at the age of fifteen to complete his musical studies. He achieved unexpected fame, probably as a result of two of his works, the intermezzo La Serva Padrona and his Stabat mater; at his early death contemporaries believed that they had lost a genius. He belongs to the school of composers like Jommelli, Traetta, Vinci, Piccinni and Paisiello, all of whom studied with the master Durante and whose simplistic works became immensely popular with the mid-eighteenth-century public. The Flute Concerto represents one of the few examples of Pergolesi’s instrumental compositions—if, indeed, Pergolesi wrote the work; musical scholarship is uncertain about its origin. Its style and structure are still very close to those of the operatic stage.

Eighteenth-century opera owes much to its most celebrated teacher of singing, Nicola Porpora (born Naples 1686, died Naples 1768), not least because his restless nature led him several times to Venice, twice to Vienna, to Dresden and to London—all Europe thus learned of his grand style of vocalization. Vienna in 1725 was not a success because the Emperor Charles VI disliked florid and profuse ornamentation, but in Dresden Porpora was warmly received. In London for seven years, until 1737, he was director of the opera house established in opposition to that presided over by Handel. His compositions are basically contrapuntal but the thematic material is highly ornamental, derived of course from contemporary operatic style. The cello is the virtuoso singer in this concerto, although its tenor voice is often involved directly in the musical texture. Both Allegros, the first being a double fugue, feature florid passage-work while the melody of the slow movements is developed contrapuntally.

Francesco Durante (born Frattamaggiore 1684, died Naples 1755) was a pupil of Alessandro Scarlatti at the Conservatorio di San Onofrio, but also studied at Rome under Pasquini. His compositions combine the severe style of the Roman school with the melodic imagination of the Neapolitan. Most of his works are sacred, many surviving only in manuscript, and during his life little was published. Yet this F minor Concerto Grosso fully reveals Durante’s talents, and indeed bears comparison with the best examples of Handel and Corelli. Each movement captures a mood by the tension of unexpected harmonies and instrumental colours. Already the opening chromaticisms are ominous, then the double fugue is vivid in its rhythms and sequences. The mood of the fourth movement is plaintively romantic in its use of a solo quartet and the finale, while simple in texture, is rich in tension.

Hyperion Records Ltd © 1988

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