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Conversazioni II - Duelling Cantatas / Sounds Baroque

Sounds Baroque
Release Date: 01/14/2014 
Label:  Avie   Catalog #: 2296   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  George Frideric HandelFrancesco GaspariniAlessandro ScarlattiDomenico Scarlatti,   ... 
Performer:  Andrew RadleyAnna DennisJulian Perkins
Conductor:  Julian Perkins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sounds Baroque
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

CONVERSAZIONI II: Duelling Cantatas • Julian Perkins, cond; Anna Dennis (sop); Andrew Radley (ct); Sounds Baroque (period instruments) • AVIE 2196 (79:13 Text and Translation)

GASPARINI In che dal terzo ciel. CALDARA Trio Sonata in e, op. 1/3. A. SCARLATTI Questo silenzio ombroso. HANDEL Amarilli vezzosa, HWV 82. Rondeau in G (attr.). Sonata in G, HWV 579. D. SCARLATTI Sonatas: in G, K 63; in d, K 32

Here, almost directly on the heels of the first volume, comes the second of the Conversationi, those Arcadian Academy concerts that were performed in the late 17th and early 18th centuries featuring topical pieces by rival member-composers. The list of poets reads like a Who’s Who of Italian opera of the time,
Read more including luminaries such as Apostolo Zeno and Pietro Metastasio, and famed composers such as Alessandro Scarlatti and Giovanni Bononcini, not to mention Archangelo Corelli and Bernardo Pasquini, contributed towards the advancement of Italian music of the time. One can easily dispense with the pseudonyms that each member took on, a bit of what today would be seen as silliness, but when one notes that the patrons included the scions of the Ottoboni and Colonna families, these concerts must have been the place to be (or be invited to) in Rome at this time. As Handel’s fame rose there, even the “dear Saxon” was invited to participate as a guest, though there seems to be no evidence that he became an actual member, regardless of his rising fame. Yet, it is known that he entered into a musical duel with Domenico Scarlatti at one of these events, though the exact pieces used are not entirely known. In this second disc, an altered version of Handel’s G-Major Sonata (HW 579) is paired off against Scarlatti’s piece (K 63) in the same key, presenting what at least one musicologist, Graham Pont, has suggested were the exact works in question.

Before I can discuss the contents of this disc, there is one comment that needs to be made. The subtitle of this disc is “Duelling Cantatas,” and to be sure, the final work, Handel’s rather coy dispute between Daliso and Amaryllis (Amarilli vezzosa, HV 82), does involve a real verbal combat between the protagonists. But the other two vocal cantatas, the idyllic Io te dal terzo ciel by Francesco Gasparini (1668–1727) and the poignant duo cantata Questa silenzio by Scarlatti’s father Alessandro, are hardly duels, either among themselves or internally. Rather, they reflect different facets of love as expressed between the two characters, one in which Venus renounces her immortality and the second where love begets sadness, whether by its fading or due to the intense longing it engenders. I would prefer the epithet “Contrasting Expressions of Love” or some such thing, though I suspect these would probably not be very marketable.

As for the music, the works themselves vary considerably. Gasparini’s work has some lovely duets, such as the second violin drone above which the first emerges with suspensive melody and which in turn complements the luscious parallel thirds of the voice in “La pastorella ove il boschetto ombreggia.” Venus’s arias, such as “Come infiamma” are fluid and languid, while those of Adonis, such as “T’amerò,” have the gentle flowing lines one often ascribes to Scarlatti. My favorite, though, is the latter’s short, succinct Questo silenzio, barely three movements long, which begins with a mysterious ground bass above which dark suspensions creep in. By the third aria, with its multiple tempos, the vocal parts weave a delicate tapestry about each other, all above a nicely luminescent continuo where the string instrument is a viola da gamba rather than a deeper cello or bass. Handel’s cantata is, of course, the most virtuoso, given that the text has this interesting dialogue interplay between the two characters. The Sinfonia is replete with rolling lines that seem to spin outwards in Corellian fashion, and the opening aria, “Pietoso sguardo,” is a slightly sinister minuet, where the lines also spin about. I even detect a bit of Spanish rhythm in the final duet, a hint of fandango in the accompaniment as the voices spar with each other. Of the instrumental works, the Caldara Trio Sonata is most like the work of Corelli, with cascading scales in the second movement contrasting with dotted rhythms for the sake of variety. The Rondeau in G Major, however, is only attributed to Handel, and I find it such an insignificant piece that it could easily have been omitted. There is a bit of the tumbling line that sounds Handelian, but it seems more second-rate Couperin than anything else.

As for the performance, the disc is excellent, fully the equal of its predecessor. Countertenor Andrew Radley has a nice, dark, rich voice, which pairs nicely with the smooth and clear soprano of Anna Dennis. The accompaniment is well done, as well, never obscuring the vocal lines. My only fault is with the G-Major Scarlatti Sonata, where I find the organ registration rather lifeless and the lines rendered without precision at moments. Here, a harpsichord would have served better (and made a better comparison with the Handel, if indeed these were the musical dueling pistols of note). Other than that, it is an excellent complement to the first of these musical conversations, and certainly belongs in any Arcadian collection.

FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
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Works on This Recording

1.
Amarilli vezzosa, HWV 82 "Il duello amoroso" by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Andrew Radley (Countertenor), Anna Dennis (Soprano)
Conductor:  Julian Perkins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sounds Baroque
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1708; Italy 
2.
Io che dal terzo ciel "Venere e Adone" by Francesco Gasparini
Performer:  Anna Dennis (Soprano), Andrew Radley (Countertenor)
Conductor:  Julian Perkins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sounds Baroque
3.
Questo silenzio ombrosio "Il sonno" by Alessandro Scarlatti
Performer:  Anna Dennis (Soprano), Andrew Radley (Countertenor)
Conductor:  Julian Perkins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sounds Baroque
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1707; Italy 
4.
Sonata for Harpsichord in D minor, K 32/L 423 by Domenico Scarlatti
Performer:  Julian Perkins (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1739 
5.
Trio sonata in E minor, Op. 1 no 5 by Antonio Caldara
Performer:  Julian Perkins (Harpsichord)
6.
Sonata for Harpsichord in D minor, K 32/L 423 by Domenico Scarlatti
Performer:  Julian Perkins (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1739 
7.
Rondo by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Julian Perkins (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 

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