Or che d’orrido Verno
is among Porpora’s finest chamber cantatas. It cannot be securely dated, but may have been written when the composer was active in Naples or Venice (or perhaps even Dresden), between 1725 and 1730, or else in the late 1740s. The work features a two-section sinfonia (with no tempo marking) and assigns exceptionally brilliant roles to both the singer and the concertante flute. However, the demands on virtuoso technique do not overshadow the prominent, delicately handled echoes between voice, solo instrument and string accompaniment that characterize the writing (a typical trait of the composer, here illustrated in exemplary fashion in the sensual, poignant ‘Lungi dal ben che s’ama’). Indeed, refinement, subtle interplay between the parts, and highly intensive (at times obsessive) exploitation of the thematic material were among the distinctive features of Porpora’s output in general. These elements, combined with extremely rich melodic invention, a mastery of compositional technique, and a keen sense of theatre and dramatic pacing, marked him out for a successful career. Today, after centuries of neglect, all these characteristics surge from the pages of his scores with explosive force, showing how groundless are the widespread stereotypes which portray Porpora exclusively as a skilful purveyor of bravura arias for the use of his pupils. In the aesthetics of so profound and refined a musician, virtuosity was a means to an end: his requirement of an extremely high level of technique from performers was an instrument to enable him to obtain a seductive, spellbinding naturalness of style, necessary in its turn to create for the intellect and the senses a pleasure that would ‘move the passions’.
from notes by Stefano Aresi © 2008
English: Charles Johnston