Notes and Editorial Reviews
Fascinating for its fine performances of interesting music and its value as a document of a particular musico-social world.
Queen Christina of Sweden was a lavish patron of music in her own kingdom - initially she mainly extended her patronage to French musicians but from 1652 it was largely Italian musicians whom she brought to her court in Stockholm. Having secretly converted to Catholicism, Christina abdicated in June of 1654 and almost immediately left Sweden - most of her valuable library had been smuggled out earlier - and made her way to Rome, her journey there seeming at times to be effectively a series of triumphal processions; there’s a fine account of all these events in Veronica Buckley’s
Queen of Sweden (2004). Once established in Rome - where her arrival was greeted by special musical performances in the Palazzo Barberini, the Palazzo Pamphili and elsewhere - she soon became one of the city’s most active patrons of literature and music. In his entry on Christiana in
Grove, John Bergsagel lists some of the musicians associated with her: Alessandro Scarlatti, Marazoli, Francesco Bianchi, Pasqualini, Alessandro Melani and Pasquini. Christina’s is the presence which haunts, as it were, this very interesting new CD from the Ensemble Vocale e Strumentale, Il Concerto d’Arianna.
It was Stradella who provided a new prologue for Cavalli’s
Scipione affricano when, in 1671, Christina opened the Teatro Tor di Nona which involved the rebuilding of a prison on the site, a prison which had numbered Cellini and Giordano Bruno amongst its unwilling residents - surely a unique origin for an opera house?; Stradella continued to provide such prologues for the new theatre for some years. Stradella’s serenata
Vola, vola in
altri parti was commissioned by Prince Gaspare Altieri for performance in front of Christina; another serenata by Stradella -
Il Damone - set a text by Baldini based on a comprehensive scenario devised by no less than Queen Christina herself. Carlo Ambrogio Lonati, from the early 1670s, was the leader of Queen Christina’s orchestra.
The Ensemble heard on this CD contains two musicologists in its ranks - violinist Valerio Losito and tenor Robert Staccioli, both of whom contribute to the booklet notes. The disc constitutes, in one sense, a report on their researches, a presentation of discoveries. There are no less than six first recordings: Lonati’s Sinfonia in A minor and Partita in G major, Stradella’s three prologues and Mannelli’s ‘La Foggia’. For all the scholarly work that lies behind this disc, it should be stressed that the music-making is lively and engaging.
Stradella’s theatrical prologues are settings of texts for one or two voices, accompanied by two violins and continuo.
Il Sospetto, very pleasantly sung by Robert Staccioli, explores the conventional troubles of ‘amoroso impero’ in some elegantly melting melodic lines; Cristiana Arcari is the soloist in
Lasciai di Ciprio il
soglio, which she sings with clarity and expressiveness; both singers are present on
Reggetimi, which has a text by Flavio Orsini (1620-1698), scion of one of the grandest Italian families and last Duke of Bracciano - a family with which Queen Christina had many connections. Stradella’s charming duet, in which Staccioli and Arcari complement each other very well, presents a dialogue between Capriccio (Capriciousness) and Costanza (Constancy). Though previously recognised as a theatrical prologue it is only recently that the work to which
Reggitimi relates has been identified - Roberto Staccioli’s notes explain that “the National Library in Rome possesses a short volume, printed there in 1669, containing the play
Non è padre essendo re by Ettore Calcolona, pseudonym of canon Carlo Celano. The final duet of the prologue begins with these very words, and the characters mentioned in the (sung) text, Alfonso, Gismena and Glostavo, are all part of the cast of Calcolona’s play”. Celano (1617-1693), born in Naples, took holy orders in his mid thirties, and, under his pseudonym, wrote moralistic comedies largely on Spanish models. Stradella’s prologue belongs to that large body of Roman music - not yet fully explored - which came into being at the cultural points where humanist clerics, aristocratic patrons and working musicians came together. Staccioli suggests that the play, with Stradella’s prologue, might have been first performed “at the mansion of Flavio Orsini … or at the home of some other nobleman in the circle of Christina of Sweden”.
After studying in Bologna, Corelli made his way to Rome in the 1670s and by 1679 he, too, was in the musical service of Christina. Indeed, Corelli’s first publication, the 12
Sonate a tre of 1681, was dedicated to Christina. Though he worked for other Roman patrons too, Christina continued to call on his services from time to time; one famous occasion when she did so was in a series of three evenings of music performed at Queen Christina’s Palazzo Riario in February 1687, in honour of James II’s ambassador to the Holy See (the Earl of Castlemaine), when Corelli led an orchestra of no less than 150 string players! On the present disc, Corelli is represented by a relatively unfamiliar sonata, written in his youth, and here played with panache by violinist Valerio Losito. Corelli’s pervasive influence and reputation have rather overshadowed the work of such slightly younger contemporaries as Lonati and Mannelli. It is typical that the Sonata in A minor, listed above as ‘Anon’ and tentatively attributed to Lonati, should have previously been attributed to Corelli. Valerio Losito makes a persuasive case for believing the work to be Lonati’s.
Lonati was a virtuoso violinist and also a singer. He seems to have sung several roles at the Tor di Nona, most often those designated as a
nano (dwarf) or
gobbo (hunchback). Many of his compositions have been lost, or perhaps survive without reliable attribution. His work makes some interesting use of counterpoint, and is characterised by variety and contrast. Such qualities are certainly evident in the works recorded on the present disc, notably in the striking contrasts between movements. Both works are well characterised by Il Concerto d’Arianna, with Losito himself again an eminently satisfactory soloist.
Carlo Mannelli was also a violinist, composer and singer, in his case, as a castrato. Though there is no record of his having been formally attached to Christina’s musical retinue he had connections with many who were and it is hard to believe that he didn’t, on occasion, put his talents at her disposal during the many years he spent in Rome. The twelve sonatas which make up his op. 2 collection all carry implicit dedications and most - like the one which gets its first recording here - are in five (short) movements. Here, the title ‘La Foggia’ refers to Francesco Foggia (1604-1688), best known as a composer of sacred music and maestro di cappella at many important churches in Rome and beyond. Mannelli’s tribute contains a beautifully lyrical adagio as its fourth movement and an intriguing fugal canzone as its second movement; it may not be irrelevant to remember that Foggia was particularly famous for the quality of his contrapuntal writing.
All in all, this disc has many grounds for recommendation. It contains some fine music - much of it newly discovered and edited - well-played and sung in good recorded sound; it prompts insight into and thought about the network of connections that define the social and cultural milieu in which it was written.
-- Glyn Pursglove, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Sinfonia for 2 Violins and Basso Continuo in A Minor by Carlo Ambrogio Lonati
Valerio Losito (Violin),
Maria Palumbo (Harpsichord),
Giancarlo Ceccacci (Violin)
Il Concerto D'arianna
Lasciai di Cipro il soglio by Alessandro Stradella
Roberto Straccioli (Tenor)
Il Concerto D'arianna
Reggetemi by Alessandro Stradella
Roberto Straccioli (Tenor),
Cristiana Arcari (Soprano)
Il Concerto D'arianna
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