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Alessandro Scarlatti: Vespro Della Beata Vergine

Scarlatti / Vokalakademie Berlin / Markowitsch
Release Date: 07/31/2012 
Label:  Rondeau Productions   Catalog #: 6062   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Alessandro Scarlatti
Conductor:  Frank Markowitsch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Vocal Academy
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



A. SCARLATTI Vespro della beata Vergine Frank Markowitsch, cond; Vokalakademie Berlin RONDEAU RORP6062 (59:39 Text and Translation)


The first thing that needs to be said about this disc is that the set of Vespers does not really exist. Before anyone accuses me of denying the obvious, I should quickly add that all seven of the pieces on this disc are truly by Alessandro Scarlatti, and moreover they are drawn from the Psalms that normally comprise the traditional Vespers, Read more including a hymn Ave maris stella and the Magnificat. It is just that these are all individual motets, cobbled together in 2004 by Jörg Jacobi into a set as a way of demonstrating that Scarlatti, a monumental figure at the end of the 17th century could have taken as his model an equally famous figure from the beginning, Claudio Monteverdi, thus bookending the period. The booklet notes by Susanne Fontaine point this out, but the explanation as to why such a compilation ought to be made is not entirely clear or convincing. We do, after all, have a complete set of Scarlatti Vespers, composed in 1721 for Cardinal Francesco Aquaviva d’Aragona and the feast of St. Cecilia, two movements of which, the Nisi Dominus and Lauda Jerusalem , also appear in this collection. No matter, the works present another, more introspective side to Scarlatti as a composer of sacred music.


The seven movements that make up these Vespers are all composed for chorus, with the occasional solo, and a continuo, here performed by a standard Baroque group of cello, double bass, theorbo, and organ (alternating with harpsichord in several sections). This makes the pieces sound a bit more austere, though certainly the styles are hardly Monteverdian in any sense. Indeed, Scarlatti uses his knowledge of the voices to weave a series of contrasting textures and choral techniques that demonstrate exquisite sensitivity to the mood of the text. The long bass solo in the Laudate pueri , performed admirably by Amnon Seelig, is highly melismatic, a spare and abbrasive command to “praise the Lord, ye servants,” followed by a cascading line in the “a solis ortu,” the antithesis of the textual rising sun. Scarlatti also uses vocal contrasts in echo, such as the duet in the Dixit Dominus (“Tecum principium”), finally joining the lyrical phrases with a passage in gorgeous parallel thirds. He can be downright old-fashioned, such as in the scaffolding lines of the Laetatus sum , with their adherence to stile antico counterpoint, but he can be mischievous too, inserting a polyphonic line with distinctive Lombardic rhythms in the Lauda Jerusalem. There are more than a few madrigalisms strewn throughout these motets, and the textures tend to be more homophonic. This demonstrates that, while he knew the prevailing style, he also wished to update it to early-18th century tastes, in effect bridging the gap between old and new. Indeed, there are passages that sound very close to Pergolesi, such as in the aforementioned “Tecum principium.” Even the lengthy Magnificat canticle, a source for ostentatious musical display in many contemporaries’ works, is handled with discretion and sensitivity, as is the hymn Ave maris stella . In the latter, the imitative portions are almost ethereal, evoking the mystery of the universe, while the latter begins with a soft prayer.


The performance by Vokalakademie Berlin is equally sensitive. Conductor Frank Markowitsch keeps the tempos moving along nicely, varying them according to the mood of the text and the musical demands, never succumbing to the temptation to make these lugubrious or too fast. The group has a nice blend, though at the beginning they are a bit muddled, no doubt due to the reverberant recording venue. Drawing the soloists from among the group allows for excellent flexibility. My only question is with the text, which is printed in the booklet in Latin with a German translation drawn from Martin Luther’s Bible. Non-German speakers will not find this accessible, though of course there are plenty of recordings out there that provide these in other languages. I may not be entirely convinced about the combination of these motets into a unique group, but certainly anyone with an interest in Alessandro Scarlatti and the music of the late Baroque written in a style that is both old and new will want to have this disc.


FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
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Works on This Recording

1.
Nisi Dominus aedificaverit by Alessandro Scarlatti
Conductor:  Frank Markowitsch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Vocal Academy
Period: Baroque 
2.
Magnificat no 1 "nel primo tono" by Alessandro Scarlatti
Conductor:  Frank Markowitsch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Vocal Academy
Period: Baroque 
Written: Italy 
3.
Dixit Dominus by Alessandro Scarlatti
Conductor:  Frank Markowitsch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Vocal Academy
Period: Baroque 
Written: Venice, Italy 
4.
Laudate pueri Dominum by Alessandro Scarlatti
Conductor:  Frank Markowitsch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Vocal Academy
Period: Baroque 
5.
Laetatus sum by Alessandro Scarlatti
Conductor:  Frank Markowitsch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Vocal Academy
Period: Baroque 
6.
Lauda Jerusalem Dominum by Alessandro Scarlatti
Conductor:  Frank Markowitsch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Vocal Academy
Period: Baroque 
7.
Ave maris stella by Alessandro Scarlatti
Conductor:  Frank Markowitsch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Vocal Academy
Period: Baroque 

Sound Samples

Dixit Dominus (version for 5 voices and organ): Dixit Dominus
Laudate pueri Dominum (version for 5 voices and basso continuo): Laudate pueri Dominum
Laetatus sum
Nisi Dominus aedificaverit
Lauda Jerusalem Dominum
Ave maris stella
Magnificat

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