Notes and Editorial Reviews
Cinque Profeti is a little known Christmas cantata by Alessandro Scarlatti. It has a power and subtlety redolent of Handel coupled with touches of early Monteverdi. Sung here to great effect by the five soloists with sensitive instrumentalists, they play together to bring the gentle and subtle melodies - surely written to confer a sense of the special nature of the Christmas season - to life. It’s a recording which is sure to please.
Opera was not performed in Rome for much of Alessandro Scarlatti's lifetime; that's why his vocal church music mostly comprised oratorios and cantatas, of which he wrote three for the Palazzo Apostolico. Only one survives: to a libretto by Silvio Stampiglia. Cinque Profeti takes the inventive
form of a conversation between the five old testament prophets, Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Abraham (the cinque profeti) about the birth of Christ – which was about to be celebrated on the occasion of the cantata’s first performance, in 1705 at the Papal Palace in Rome.
By that time it had been a Christmas Eve tradition for thirty years that the Pope should give a banquet after Vespers for the College of Cardinals at which music such as this was performed. From 1700 the influential patron Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni oversaw the papal choir and was thus responsible for these performances. Corelli was Ottoboni's concertmaster and almost certainly took part in Cinque Profeti. His Sonata a Quattro in G Minor is a vibrant piece, characteristically rich harmonically. It is played at the beginning of this little treasure of a CD - as a kind of curtain-raiser. These must surely have been very atmospheric occasions.
The music of Cinque Profeti is varied – simple arioso exposition, reflective solo and ensemble numbers and some beautiful fugal writing of such delicacy and lightness of touch that – if it weren’t for the melody – you might imagine you were listening to Rameau or Purcell … almost. There is a fair measure of pathos and lamentation, passion and vigour in equal measure from all five singers. Nor is Scarlatti’s writing over-declamatory or in any way bombastic. It manages to blend respect for the occasion and circumstance - celebration of the birth of Christ - with joy and uplift. These sentiments the singers represent well; particularly Schlick and Prégardien, with their careful enunciation and easy-paced delivery.
The performance is of a high standard, though not outstanding; some minor wobbles here and there. But since this is the only version of this interesting and lively work in the current catalogue, if it’s repertoire that interests you, you should not hesitate to get a copy.
-- Mark Sealey, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Cinque profeti by Alessandro Scarlatti
Kai Wessel (Countertenor),
Christoph Prégardien (Tenor),
Michael Schopper (Bass),
Heike Hallaschka (Soprano),
Barbara Schlick (Soprano)
Written: 1705; Rome, Italy
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