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Steffani: Cantatas, Duets & Sonatas / Yasunori Imamura, Fons Musicae


Release Date: 01/01/2012 
Label:  Pan Classics   Catalog #: 10131   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Agostino Steffani
Performer:  Yasunori Imamura
Conductor:  Yasunori Imamura
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Fons Musicae
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



STEFFANI Porto l’alma incerita. 1,2 Inquieto mio cor. 1,2 Fileno, idolo mio. 1 Il più felice e sfortunato amante. 2 Crudo Amor, morir mi sento. 1,2 Amor vien dal destino: E fino a quando o padre. 1,2 CALDARA Sonata a tre No. IV in B?. Read more ANON Violin Sonata in G Yasunori Imamura (gtr, thb, cond); Monique Zanetti (sop); 1 Pascal Bertin (ct); 2 Fons Musicae (period instruments) PAN 10131 (73:21 Text and Translation)


Years before Steffani abandoned music to become both an international diplomat and highly placed church official, he was celebrated for his excellent singing voice and his operas. His chamber music was less known, but still well considered by connoisseurs. Little of it was non-vocal, and he only composed six solo cantatas, which he referred to as scherzi ; but Steffani also wrote more than 80 chamber duets. Colin Timms, who in recent years has edited and published the composer’s complete cantatas and duets, writes enthusiastically of the latter’s quality in Grove I : “They cover most of his creative career, and their supple melody, elegant counterpoint and perfect formal balance epitomize his style, which may be compared (not unfavorably) with that of Stradella, Corelli, and the young Handel.” Strong words.


The music on this album includes two cantatas, two non-vocal works, and four duets—of which one, the five-movement “E fino a quando o padre,” is drawn from the composer’s 1709 opera, Amor vien dal destino . Overall, they present an attractive image of this composer who would end his life as an overworked, underpaid apostolic vicar. The theatrical pieces, all six of them, are just that: theater in the intimate Baroque sense of the word. The subject is with one exception affective love, either unrequited or yearned after because the object isn’t present. The recitatives are effective, while the arias possess much the same ability to define emotion through immediately memorable themes as Handel’s early cantatas for his Roman patrons. “Vieni, o sol” from Fileno, idolo mio is a request for the sun to bring peace that just can’t keep the mischievous smile out of its tone; “Se d’una afflitta madre” is a very different sort of request from Amor vien dal destino : a wonderfully moving plea to Jupiter, by Venus, to save her son, Aeneas, from a thousand dangers at sea. “Stelle ingiuste,” from Inquieto mio cor , is a bitter, chromatic, and contrapuntally elegant duet reproaching Cupid for leaving no happiness or calm to a soul.


Of the two non-vocal pieces, the Trio Sonata IV has been known since the late 1920s to be by Antonio Caldara, though originally published under Steffani’s name. The Violin Sonata in turn can be found in the music library of the Count of Schönborn at Wiesentheid, along with an anonymous annotation, “Authorship remains doubtful.” The album jacket mentions nothing of this, crediting both works to Steffani, and the liner notes only cover the basics. Purely from a musical standpoint, they are attractive enough pieces, both taking after Corelli in their harmonic movement and thematic content—though I would have traded the pair to hear another couple of the cantatas with Monique Zanetti as soloist.


Make no mistake, she is the primary draw here, outside of the music itself. Without in any way meaning to denigrate the rest of the performers, let it be said that Zanetti’s enunciation, vibrant agility, bright tone, and dramatic style deliver the goods in this music after a fashion that brings it to life. She is attentive to the meaning of the text, and sings with an appropriate expressiveness that never degenerates into the melodramatic. Countertenor Bertin is sadly not at his best, here. He furnishes sketchy coloratura, as well as a monotonous if pleasant vocal color, but goes much of the way towards providing the same kind of theatrical realization of the text that Zanetti offers. The rest of Fons Musicae comprises three violins, harpsichord, a cello or viola da gamba, and theorbo or Baroque guitar. They take tempos on the spirited side, and while most of these are fine in context, the title aria to “Crudo amor” with its references to a slow, bitter martyrdom, would seem to require something a bit more measured than the almost chirpy pace provided. Their strings lack vibrato, even as an aid to color. Their tone does avoid that wiriness that is the bane of some performers claiming authenticity, however, and if lacking much variation in tonal quality, is produced with pliant phrasing, sure technique, and the occasional tasteful embellishment.


There’s little competition to this album. Cremonesi/Ensemble Arcadia (Glossa 2K0902) supplies both “Porto l’alma incerita” and “Crudo Amor, morir mi sento,” adopting more measured tempos than I prefer in the latter work. However, the continuo is literal and earthbound, the pacing square and even. In addition, distant miking makes its pair of fine singers (Rossana Bertini and Claudio Cavina) sound as though they were placed in another room from the recording equipment. Malina/Affetti Musicali (Hungaroton 33078) offers “Il più felice” and “Fileno, idolo mio,” with dull string continuo, its four singers of varying quality dutifully precise without ever embellishing the melodic line. Neither album conveys the inherently theatrical nature of these vocal pieces as does the current release.


In short, recommended. This album makes the best case yet for Steffani’s vocal music. Let’s hope more recordings of his operas and chamber duets take their cue from these performances.


FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

1. Porto l'alma incenerita by Agostino Steffani
Performer:  Yasunori Imamura (Theorbo), Yasunori Imamura (Guitar)
Conductor:  Yasunori Imamura
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Fons Musicae
Period: Baroque 
Written: Germany 
2. Sonate da camera (6) for 2 Violins, Viola and Basso continuo by Agostino Steffani
Performer:  Yasunori Imamura (Theorbo), Yasunori Imamura (Guitar)
Conductor:  Yasunori Imamura
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Fons Musicae
Period: Baroque 
3. Fileno idolo mio by Agostino Steffani
Performer:  Yasunori Imamura (Guitar), Yasunori Imamura (Theorbo)
Conductor:  Yasunori Imamura
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Fons Musicae
Period: Baroque 
Written: Germany 
4. Il più felice e sfortunato amante by Agostino Steffani
Performer:  Yasunori Imamura (Guitar), Yasunori Imamura (Theorbo)
Conductor:  Yasunori Imamura
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Fons Musicae
Period: Baroque 
Written: Germany 
5. Crudo Amor, morir mi sento by Agostino Steffani
Performer:  Yasunori Imamura (Theorbo), Yasunori Imamura (Guitar)
Conductor:  Yasunori Imamura
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Fons Musicae
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1698; Germany 

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