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Steffani: Lagrime Dolorose - Secular Cantatas / Ciofini, Accademia Hermans

Steffani / Academia Hermans / Ciofini
Release Date: 01/28/2014 
Label:  Brilliant Classics   Catalog #: 94299   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Agostino Steffani
Performer:  Marta MathéuMauro [Baritone (Vocal)] Borgioni
Conductor:  Fabio Ciofini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Accademia Hermans
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 58 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Taking its cue from the rediscovered union between music and words, the cantata underwent a serious transformation during the 17th century, giving voice to affetti (the language of emotions) through adopting a range of formal structures that adhered to the poetic text in question. The genre became the brand name of composers considered Italian -- including Agostino Steffani, one of the leading opera composers of Scarlatti's generation. Having trained as a priest, Steffani spent the majority of his career balancing between musical and ecclesiastical duties (which were not always reconcilable). His output, besides approximately 20 operas, includes sacred music, instrumental works and collections of cantatas for one to three voices.
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Among the latter, the Sei scherzi a voce sola con accompagnamento di piffari o di violini -- the subject of this recording -- holds a special place, with the conventionality of the poetic texts (all of which refer to the idyllic pastoral sphere) contrasting strongly against the composer's often highly unconventional musical choices. From the recitatives to the cavatas and arias, the text is continually masterfully rendered, thanks also to the refined use of instruments that accompany the voices and which are also used independently (in the preludes and refrains). In these works, therefore, we observe the skills of an opera composer but also those of an excellent contrapuntist, the influences of instrumental models (Corelli) as well as vocal ones (Scarlatti, Carissimi), and the Italian roots and openness to a European context in which the role of this indefatigable bishop-composer merits reassessment. Founded in 2000, the Umbria-based Accademia Hermans -- an ensemble specifically dedicated to the early repertoire -- breathes new life into these musical gems, works which document the rise of a genre that became the principal form of Italian Baroque vocal chamber music.

Other information:
- Recorded 6, 7 & 8 August 2012, Teatro Cucinelli di Solomeo, Perugia, Italy.
- Thanks to the advocacy of world star Cecilia Bartoli (her bestselling album "Mission") the music of Agostino Steffani enjoys a glorious resurrection. This newly recorded CD contains the 6 Secular Cantatas for vocal soloists and a group of instruments, both strings and winds.
- Steffani was a priest and composer of mainly vocal music, his spectacular operas were famous in his time. The Cantatas are based on poetry of a pastoral character, and contain virtuoso parts for the soloists, the instrumental group giving support in rich harmonies and counterpoint.
- Beautiful singing of three highly talented young vocalists, well known names in the world of Early Music, and the Accademia Hermans, the Italian period instruments group, who have already worked with great vocalists like Roberta Invernizzi and Gloria Banditelli.
- Booklet in English and Italian, containing liner notes, biographies and sung texts.

R E V I E W: 3763200.az_STEFFANI_Lagrime_Sei_Scherzi.html

STEFFANI Lagrime dolorosa: Sei Scherzi a voce sola Fabio Ciofini (org, hpd, cond); Marta Mathéu (sop); Aurelio Schiavoni (alt); Mauro Borgioni (bs); Accademia Hermans (period instruments) BRILLIANT 94299 (58:15 Text and Translation)


The title for these six cantatas for solo voices and strings would seem to indicate something sad and morose, but in truth these are lovely mid-Baroque chamber works by one of the leading composers in Germany, Agostino Steffani (1655–1728). Steffani, who moved north at about the age of 19 to study with Johann Kaspar Kerll, brought with him the Italian opera style of Alessandro Scarlatti, although his work was often more lyrical than virtuoso. His own career was divided between musical pursuits and official court duties, both ecclesiastical and diplomatic.


These works ought rightly to be called cantatas, for they consist of an opening sinfonia as well as a couple of modest arias. The title “Scherzi,” or jests, indicates that these are occasional pieces, the term not always being used to designate comedy but rather bagatelles or light-hearted works. There were written somewhere around 1670–1690, probably when he was in Hannover, although this seems a point of debate, as much of the musical chronology of this period is. The excellent commentary notes that the manuscript is in the Este Library in Modena, and author Silvia Paparelli postulates that it was a gift to Duke Francesco II as part of the establishment of diplomatic relations with the duchy. There is nothing that would argue against this, though it would seem that precise documentation is lacking. Certainly, the small, intimate setting would suggest the sort of cultured musical establishment such as existed in Modena, and one ought to have visions of family members being able to perform these works without difficulty.


Steffani’s scoring is always delightful, with a pair of violins that weave in and out of the vocal line, at times underscoring it and at others being used in a gentle imitation in each of the works. For example, in the opening cantata, “Fileno, idolo mio,” the plaintive cry of “Vieni” which occurs poetically a number of times is a gentle urging of the voice and violins, enticing and soft, as if drawing in the listener by the hand. The opening aria of “Hai finito di lusingarmi” is a mincing dance to the accompaniment of a pair of oboes that seems like it ought to have come from Purcell. In a brief recitative that follows, the voice suddenly cuts loose when the text describes a storm and crashing waves. The lines run about furiously, only to end in yet another careful dance, as if the lovers are circling each other. In the “Spezza Amor,” the darting of the vocal line mimics the slings and arrows of that errant boy Cupid, with a nicely flowing bassoon and oboe accompaniment. In “Lagrime dolorosa,” the title piece, the bass opens with a sustained bass line (which is imitated throughout) above swaying recorders. These also weave a flowing tapestry around the voice in “Occhi miei,” which speaks of tears. One cannot find too much sadness in this piece, which is more upbeat than a real lament.


The performances by the vocalists are exemplary. Soprano Marta Mathéu has a clear and bright voice that both blends well with the strings and yet penetrates the texture when necessary to outline particularly emotional points and the occasional melisma. Alto Aurelio Schiavoni has a great deal of power and feeling in his one cantata. I particularly like his sustained notes, where he uses little or no vibrato in the mezza di voce and yet conveys considerable feeling. Bass Mauro Borgioni can be a bit tentative at moments, such as the opening of “Lagrime dolorosa,” but this music requires delicacy, not the virile power of a Handelian bass, and for that he is a perfect fit. His lines, often in conjunction with the continuo, are done with finesse and grace, and I find that he matches the recorders well. The accompaniment is done with equal ability. The pairs are in tune with each other (and the voices), and I like the variations of tempos that give the music considerable energy and life, even in the softer flowing arias. This is a fine disc and should awaken interest in Steffani, whose music certainly deserves a much wider audience.


FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
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Works on This Recording

1.
Fileno idolo mio by Agostino Steffani
Performer:  Marta Mathéu (), Mauro [Baritone (Vocal)] Borgioni ()
Conductor:  Fabio Ciofini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Accademia Hermans
Period: Baroque 
Written: Germany 
Venue:  Teatro Cucinelli di Solomeo, Perugia, It 
Length: 8 Minutes 17 Secs. 
2.
Hai finito di lusingarmi by Agostino Steffani
Performer:  Marta Mathéu (), Mauro [Baritone (Vocal)] Borgioni ()
Conductor:  Fabio Ciofini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Accademia Hermans
Venue:  Teatro Cucinelli di Solomeo, Perugia, It 
Length: 9 Minutes 38 Secs. 
3.
Il più felice e sfortunato amante by Agostino Steffani
Performer:  Mauro [Baritone (Vocal)] Borgioni (), Marta Mathéu ()
Conductor:  Fabio Ciofini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Accademia Hermans
Period: Baroque 
Written: Germany 
Venue:  Teatro Cucinelli di Solomeo, Perugia, It 
Length: 8 Minutes 31 Secs. 
4.
Spezza amor l'arco by Agostino Steffani
Performer:  Mauro [Baritone (Vocal)] Borgioni (), Marta Mathéu ()
Conductor:  Fabio Ciofini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Accademia Hermans
Period: Baroque 
Written: Italy 
Venue:  Teatro Cucinelli di Solomeo, Perugia, It 
Length: 14 Minutes 7 Secs. 
5.
Lagrime dolorose by Agostino Steffani
Performer:  Mauro [Baritone (Vocal)] Borgioni (), Marta Mathéu ()
Conductor:  Fabio Ciofini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Accademia Hermans
Venue:  Teatro Cucinelli di Solomeo, Perugia, It 
Length: 8 Minutes 18 Secs. 
6.
Guardati o core (Guard my heart), cantata by Agostino Steffani
Performer:  Mauro [Baritone (Vocal)] Borgioni (), Marta Mathéu ()
Conductor:  Fabio Ciofini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Accademia Hermans
Period: Baroque 
Venue:  Teatro Cucinelli di Solomeo, Perugia, It 
Length: 9 Minutes 22 Secs. 

Sound Samples

Fileno, idolo mio
Hai finito di lusingarmi (To lure no more): Hai finito di lusingarmi
Il piu felice e sfortunato amante
Spezza, Amor (Amor, break your bows): Spezza, Amor, l'arco e li strali
Lagrime dolorose (Painful tears): Lagrime dolorose
Guardati o core (Guard my heart): Guardati, o core

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