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Caldara: Il Piu Bel Nome / Moreno, Blaze, Espada, Andueza

Calara / Espada / Andueza / Kielland / Blaze
Release Date: 09/28/2010 
Label:  Glossa   Catalog #: 920310  
Composer:  Antonio Caldara
Performer:  Robin BlazeRaquel AnduezaMaria EspadaMarianne Beate Kielland,   ... 
Conductor:  Emilio Moreno
Orchestra/Ensemble:  El Concierto Español
Number of Discs: 2 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

CALDARA Il più bel nome Emilio Moreno, cond; Maria Espada ( Venus ); Raquel Andueza ( Juno ); Marianne Beate Kielland ( Hercules ); Robin Blaze ( Paris ); Agustin Prunell-Friend ( Fate ); Concierto Español GLOSSA 920310 (2 CDs: 117:26 Read more &)

I’ve been trying to find an appropriate analog to the 18th-century serenata, to provide you with a sense of how contemporaneous audiences considered the genre. Sadly, I haven’t had much luck. So far, the only thing that comes to mind is the Greek poet Pindar, and there are arguably fewer people who enjoy Pindar today than enjoy serenatas. So let me put it like this: Pindar wrote lengthy heroic odes celebrating the supposed god-based ancestry and virtues of whoever paid him well. The staged serenata was part musical-dramatic entertainment, part praise for the virtues and activities of whoever paid the composer well. Just as Pindar’s many lofty odes solemnly praising such clients of his as Hieron, tyrant of Syracuse, are unlikely to touch our emotional cores, so serenatas, in which ancient Greco-Roman deities and the like lavish extravagant praise upon 18th-century rulers, aren’t going to touch us the way Verdi’s Desdemona does, protesting her love, or thrill us as Mozart’s Almaviva does, kneeling before his disregarded Countess.

So you won’t be surprised to hear that Caldara’s Il più bel nome includes Venus, Juno, Hercules, Paris, and Fate. They argue over who is truly the most beautiful goddess, Paris supporting his recent choice of Venus, Hercules supporting Juno. Then Fate announces the kicker: Another goddess bids fair to preempt both of those present, and it’s not Minerva—as one might expect, given the Trojan War that followed—but Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, just married that same year, 1708, to Caldara’s patron, Charles VI of the Habsburg line.

If neither the plot nor its working-out grips, the work is on stronger ground musically. Caldara was a thoroughgoing professional, an adept at Neapolitan opera, and a student later in life of the emerging galant style. Paris’s “Quel pastorello,” with its typical nature metaphors, has a charm only partly owed to its instrumentation of paired recorders, and Fate’s complaint against Venus’s beauty and Juno’s virtue in “La beltà ch’è troppo vana” has a kind of smug prissiness that amuses. For more vigorous utterance, Hercules’ arias are invariably rhythmically direct and tuneful. None of this rises to the depiction of character in music discovered in Handel’s Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno or several of his other Roman cantatas, but Il più bel nome does offer one certifiable gem: the 6/8 aria “Quella Liria inanmorata,” floating one of those incomparable galant themes that seem to smile through melancholy reflection, above a two-part continuo.

The performances are with one exception strong, but not always well cast for vocal type. Raquel Andueza’s creamy soprano and placid temperament would seem better suited for Venus than the righteous and imperious Juno, while Maria Espada, who certainly finds the drama in her persona, possesses an unvaryingly bright tone with a slightly acidic edge at times. Robin Blaze, too, makes a good theatrical impression, his countertenor notable for excellent enunciation of the text and pointed phrasing. By contrast, Marianne Beate Kielland swallows most consonants, exchanging easily produced figures for dramatic incomprehension. Agustin Prunell-Friend sadly is in poorer shape here than in Terradellas’ Artaserse ( RCOC Records 0800) or Cavalli’s Gli amore d’Apollo e di Dafne (Naxos 8.660187-88). His formidable agility is still present, but every note is now aspirated, and pitch is not always on center. That’s problematic in a role responsible for the work’s most vivid coloratura. Emilio Moreno leads El Concierto Español in an attractively clean and precise performance, but one that might have benefited more from greater variation in tempos, and a more dynamic sense of theater.

In sum, Il più bel nome isn’t a formidable addition to the burgeoning catalog of Baroque stage works on the order of Handel, Steffani, or Rameau, but it does have it charms. In good sound, with both original texts and translations in English, Catalan, Spanish, and French, consider this recommended.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Il più bel nome by Antonio Caldara
Performer:  Robin Blaze (Countertenor), Raquel Andueza (Soprano), Maria Espada (Soprano),
Marianne Beate Kielland (Mezzo Soprano), Agustin Prunell-Friend (Tenor)
Conductor:  Emilio Moreno
Orchestra/Ensemble:  El Concierto Español

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