FEO Passio secundum Joannem • Lorenzo Ghielmi, cond; Doron Schleifer (Evangelista); Krystian Adam (Jesus); Mirko Guadagnini (Pilatus); Barbara Schmidt-Gaden (mez); Varese C Ch; La Divina Armonia (period instruments) • LIGIA 02022219 (55:00 Text and Translation)
Francesco Feo (1691–1761) is one of thoseRead more many composers active in Naples who eschewed the limelight and preferred to remain as teachers and mentor. This in turn generally made their music, almost all written for local use, disappear into the archives with scant hope for resurrection. Feo began his career as a promising opera composer in 1713, and by 1723 he and a young librettist, Pietro Metastasio, had teamed up to begin writing opera seria. The same year he became the head instructor at the Sant’Onofrio Conservatory at the Porta Capuana, a position he maintained for a decade and a half before going on to the Poveri di Gesù Cristo Conservatory. After a few more years he tired of this and wanted to resume an international career as an opera composer. He received a number of commissions from as far away as Spain and Bohemia, but by that time he had long been overtaken by ambitious students such as Nicolò Jommelli. Thus, he remained a footnote to music history, mainly being noted for his vain attempt to get his prize pupil, Giovanni Pergolesi, to stop obsessively working and regain his health. (Pergolesi didn’t follow the advice and died at the young age of 26.)
As far as his own achievements are concerned, Feo is one of those seminal figures in the development of the Neapolitan musical style, which in turn was so influential in the formation of the music of the Classical period. He, along with colleagues such as Leonardo Vinci, Nicola Porpora, and Leonardo Leo, introduced a more lyrical, triadic, and homophonic music, where the focus was on good contrasting form and a flexible structure, as well as interesting harmony. It is a shame that so little of his music has been revived; the only other disc is a recent 2009 recording on cpo of a Mass and a motet, both of which are quite fine pieces. This production of the St. John Passion by La Divina Armonia provides a nice sequel to that initial work.
When one thinks of a Passion according to John, the most immediate forerunners that come to mind are the German works by people such as Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Philipp Telemann, the majority of which have a narrative portion interrupted by the usual choral expostulations and dialogue (generally Christ and other principal characters in the well-known drama), and contemplative moments with chorales and various arias. The Italian Passions, of which the bulk remain undiscovered, are something quite different. For the most part, they are in Latin taken directly from the Vulgate, and they don’t always follow the entire story. This Passion begins with Jesus’ arrest, trial, and the denial of Peter, ending with the Crucifixion and the piercing of the side of his corpse by a soldier’s spear. The bulk of the musical material is narrative, originally probably performed by a castrato but here by countertenor Doron Schleifer, which weaves in and out of secco and accompanied recitative. There are two larger arias, one by Feo himself and another by Francesco Gasparini, that have been interpolated, though it doesn’t say whether this was conductor Lorenzo Ghielmi’s decision or whether the source actually contains them. Both do provide a nice diversion from the recitation, although I find the Gasparini quite Baroque in style, a rather stark contrast to the more modern Feo. Bit roles, mostly the dialogue, are done by tenors Krystian Adam and Mirko Guadagnini as Jesus and Pontius Pilate, respectively, though neither really has the stage for more than an expostulation or two. This music is quite different from what one might anticipate, in that the bulk of the instrumental parts, for strings only (and the inevitable continuo), are rarely used for more than background accompaniment. Feo has a good sense of outlining the text with certain brief orchestral effects. For instance, as Christ is crucified the section opens with decisive hammer strokes, like nails being pounded into the cross. As Jesus is arrested, there are various musical sighs, like the acceptance of the inevitable, along with some rather nice, pungent harmonies. This is truly dramatic mood music of the 18th-century Neapolitan sort, and very appropriate for Lent.
The performances are excellent. Schleifer gives a solid and well-nuanced account of himself, making the narrative flow smoothly and gracefully. Even the ornamentation in the opening melisma or the cascading torrents as Christ is arrested is handled with ease. Ghielmi’s small ensemble is nicely coordinated, with good phrasing and never overbearing in its short, often descriptive ritornellos. The remainder of the larger Varese chorus and the characters are also well performed, but their parts are quite limited. The disc is embedded within a thick booklet, where the text and colorful photographs of the statuary at the Church of Santa Maria del Monte in Varese abound. My only peeve is that the text itself is rather difficult to follow, as the original Latin appears in the third column, making the reader search for it. If you are French, you’re out of luck here, for you’ll have to go to the back to find your version, completely separated from the rest.
In short, this is a great disc to have if you are a fan of Italian Classical or Neapolitan music. Moreover, it is a good contrast to the plethora of German Passions that abound in the recording world, in that it shows that the Catholics, too, had a specialized genre that they used every Lenten season. Feo’s work is solid, harmonically interesting, and in many cases quite moving. Given the fine performance by La Divina Armonia, this is a disc that is recommended.
Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Joannemby Francesco Feo Performer:
Krystian Adam (Tenor),
Barbara Schmidt-Gaden (Mezzo Soprano),
Doron Schleifer (Countertenor),
Mirko Guadagnini (Tenor)
La Divina Armonia,
Varese Chamber Chorus
Period: Baroque Venue: Facoltà teologica dell'Italia settentrio Length: 3 Minutes 40 Secs.
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
An Amazing Work... Amazingly PerformedFebruary 11, 2012By Clifford H C. (Thompson, MB)See All My Reviews"There is always a risk when you purchase something you have never heard of. I was looking for another piece of Feo after purchasing his Mass Missa Confitebor a 5. So when I saw the St John's Passion I jumped at it. I am glad that I did. What a remarkable recording. The beauty and craftsmanship of this entire project is apparent when you open the booklet (CD Case). I can't find fault with this concert. The sound quality is top notch. Everyone on the technical side of this recording did an amazing job. One of the best sound stages I have heard. Intimate but not restrained. On a good stereo the voices and instruments fly. Anyone with 7-Channel Stereo Sound should try it that way, absolutely remarkable. The Performances are of such a high calibre. The evangelist's amazingly flexible Alto voice steals the show. She can keep you on the edge of your seat. And the other soloists are a match, never letting the Alto completely walk away with the prize. The Instrumentalist do an excellent job of fusing with the voices. La Divina Armonia walking bass is superb, always entertaining and when it comes to the full instrumental interludes they outdo themselves each time. The Interlude when Jesus is arrested stopped me in my tracks; nothing existed at that moment except for the music. As for Feo's Music..... Oh where to start.... Melodramatic but not hammy.... Amazingly balanced. A welcome addition to the Baroque canon. This recording reminds me why I love the Baroque Period so much. The innovation and experimentation with new sounds. It is always important to step away from Bach, Handel, Vivaldi and Telemann and experience the Stolzel, Feo and Graupner. Italian Passions are always interesting. Unlike the German Composers who were working this music into the liturgy, the Italians were producing passions for concerts and special services. The Roman Catholics did not have any real use for passions in the traditional church setting. German Passions are large and congregational affairs. Italian Passions are always much more personal and emotional affairs. Italian Passions have more in common with Handel's Oratorios than Bach's St Matthews Passion. This passion by Feo shows remarkable flow and modernism for the Baroque period. It borrows heavily from opera. This really is a Five Star Product."Report Abuse