A. SCARLATTI Lamentazioni per la Settimana Santa • Enrico Gatti, cond; Cristina Miatello (sop); Cian Paolo Fagotto (ten); Aurora Ens (period instruments) • GLOSSA 921205 (2 CDs: 113:16 Text and Translation)
The Lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah have formed an important part of the liturgy for Holy Week since pre-Christian times, though the actual texts were codified at the Council of Trent in the 16th century. Arranged as an alphabetic acrostic consisting of sequential versesRead more according to the Hebrew alphabet (aleph to tau), this multimovement work was sung during Matins from Thursday through Saturday. Not surprisingly, these “poetic prayers” as the booklet notes call them, are meant as a series of intricate statements on the destruction of Jerusalem and deportation of its population by the Babylonian army of Nebuchadnezzar in 587 B.C.E. Throughout, the author has created a series of sorrowful comments on the aftermath of this catastrophe with vivid language that is at once modern and ancient. As such, Lamentations, either in whole or in part, were a favorite text to set by composers, particularly during the early 18th century. They were also quite popular, if that is the word one wishes to use for laments, especially in Spain, and there is a nice website where one can find a listing of Spanish composers who specialized in this sort of composition.
Needless to say, the subject matter requires a specialized compositional technique, since each verse is preceded by a sung letter of the alphabet. Usually this is where the majority of the melismatic writing occurs for the voice, since there is not a lot one can do with the text here. The rest tends to be somewhat syllabic, although there is ample opportunity for the display of emotional reactions to the devastation of the event. As appropriate for the season, the settings are generally sparse and done in the stile antico, with cautious counterpoint, limited orchestration, and accompaniment that is often colorful but sparse.
Alessandro Scarlatti’s large work was commissioned about 1706, though the circumstances are not entirely clear. It may have been for one of his Roman patrons or for Naples or for the Duke of Tuscany, although by this time he was happily ensconced as a composer of Neapolitan opera and so did not need particular patronage to survive. In any case, the six Lamentations are a well-conceived and -integrated set in a style that focuses upon text-painting. For example, he uses effusive cries and string fanfares in the Lesson for Sacred Wednesday Lamed with the soprano extolling the fury of the Lord. In the invocation “Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum” the repeated cries of the city followed by a nice mezza di voce on the word convertere (return) is an effective bit of exhortation, but Scarlatti dissolves it into a thin cadence in the violins, leaving the listener dangling.
This is the only complete recording that I know of this work. It was recorded in 1992 for Symphonia, and probably did not have a great deal of circulation on that less well-known label. Four of the six sections were done on Opus 111 by the Parliament de Musique under Martin Gester back in 1993 (rereleased in 2000), and it probably was done as a sort of competition, and it too is a fine recording. This rerelease of the more complete version by the Aurora Ensemble more than supersedes it in effective playing and interpretation, however. First, there is the chant prologue, which sets the tone, drawing the listener in to the cycle with a fluid monophonic introduction. Tenor Gian Paolo Fagotto performs this with a fluid grace that makes it seem like one is inside the cathedral of Bologna, where it was recorded, not just listening to a concert but actually experiencing an actual service. Soprano Cristina Miatello is spot-on in terms of pitch and ornamentation. There is just the right touch of vibrato to give the part a nice depth, and she handles the occasionally operatic melismas with dexterity and passion. The Aurora Ensemble is a spare group, basically a string quartet with lute and organ continuo, and yet its sound seems far larger. Gatti creates a nice atmospheric accompaniment, never overshadowing the voice, but rather carefully interweaving with it and providing the support. Organist Guido Morini has a knack for knowing which registration will best complement Miatello, even dropping out in favor of the lute in such sections as the First Lesson of Good Friday’s “Ponet in pulvere.” The interpretation is moving and well suited to the text, the intonation and tempos as well. If you don’t have the original release in your collection, this is definitely the one you should get. It is an outstanding recording that has certainly stood the test of time.