Notes and Editorial Reviews
Op. 2/3 “La Frangipana”; Op. 2/4 “La Strasolda”; Op. 2/15 “La Torianna”
Riccardo Favero, cond; Oficina musicum Ch & O (period instruments)
DYNAMIC 711 (61:39
One often thinks of Giovanni Legrenzi (1626-1690) as mainly a composer of instrumental works, largely because of his contributions towards the development of the baroque sonata
as a predecessor of Archangelo Corelli. Legrenzi was, however, mainly employed as church composer at the Ospedale dei Mendicanti and later as chorus master at the Oratorio di San Filippi Neri in Venice, for whom he wrote a number of works to be performed during Holy Week. He also maintained close ties to Ferrara, particularly with Cardinal Sigismundo Chigi, who served as a patron of sorts, as did the Bentivoglio family. As a result he must be reckoned alongside Francesco Cavalli as one of the main composers of this period in and around Venice and a significant factor in the development of the Venetian post-Gabrieli baroque style.
Among his oratorios,
is one of the more dramatic. It recalls the capture of King Zedakiah of Judah, who along with his sons sought to escape Jerusalem, then under the control of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. Zedakiah refused to listen to the warnings of the Prophet Jeremiah and so was being punished for his revolt against Babylonian suzerainty. Of course, Nebuchadnezzar dealt with this in typical Levantine fashion, sacking Jerusalem, killing Zedakiah’s two sons in front of him, and, after blinding him, hauled him off to Babylon to rot in prison. This could make for a rather neat tragedy, though it hardly is a testament to faith, given who triumphs. One can only guess that there might be a strong Counter-Reformation message in this piece; that is, a warning to all who “revolt” against the Catholic Church that their fates would be rather dim and that they would be punished by “evil” foreign forces. Or perhaps librettist Ippolito Bentivoglio simply thought this might make an unusual story. Whatever the reason, Legrenzi saw in the text the possibilities of creating a nicely integrated work.
This disc represents a recording premiere of the 49-minute oratorio, and since this is just under what one needs to fill out a program nowadays, conductor Riccardo Favero has chosen to insert as prelude, interlude, and epilogue three sonatas that Legrenzi published in 1655 in his op. 2. That these pieces do not belong together should not be disturbing, particularly since they do frame and divide the fast-paced oratorio neatly. The work begins with a wonderful chorus, “Alla fuga, veloci, e rapidi voliamo,” in which Legrenzi divides his voices into imitative snippets that fly all over the score, accompanied and complemented by the fast-moving cornetts. These may be obvious madrigalisms, but the effect of portraying the fleeing Jewish army starts the work off with a dramatic turn. When, after the narrator, sung with a rich, smooth tone by countertenor Andrea Arrivabene, sets the scene, Zedekiah and his two sons lament the loss of Jerusalem. Zedekiah’s aria “Addio, mia reggia,” is accompanied by the sonorous scoring of the viola da gamba and violone, making it almost, but not quite a lament. As his sons in turn add their comments, Legrenzi resorts to a more conventional continuo aria, although the First Son’s “Son volubili più d’aura” contrasts a contrapuntal line with the violin, while the Second Son’s “Bella guancia” uses a dance-like rhythm in the violin accompaniment to outline his more mundane loss of gardens and flowers. Their fate culminates in a hymn-like trio that is homophonic enough to be almost Protestant. The arrival of Nebuchadnezzar’s army in the form of a male chorus is accompanied by a cornett/trombone choir, lending the shouts of “vivi, vivi” an almost sepulchral tone. The Babylonian king himself, sung with a rich bass with lots of depth by Walter Testolin, “fulminates” (as the text says) with a florid ornamental line ending on a truly bottomed out final note. In the second part, both sons have brief continuo arias, the first of which begins with a lone voice “fleeing” in a rather meandering line before the continuo enters, while the one that follows (“Quaest’aura”) could have come right out of a Cavalli opera, with nice ritornelli. As Zedekiah and his sons are brought in chains, the Chaldeans once more unite in a chorus that is practically a victory dance, although the use of the trombone choir seems to come straight out of Gabrieli rather than opera. Elsewhere, such as in the duet “Padre, io manco,” Legrenzi uses a compact ground bass to anchor the wandering violin and vocal lines, and both sections of the oratorio end with appropriately solemn madrigals that are true laments.
All in all, this is a wonderful work, and the three sonatas, with their equal partnership of instruments and fluid counterpoint, all fit in nicely with the oratorio’s ambience. The scoring, originally somewhat variable, has been consolidated by Favero, whose choices as to instrumentation are both sensitive and appropriate to the baroque sentiments of the text. The only drawback for some, however, might be that the booklet has only the Italian original; to get an English translation you have to go online to Dynamic’s website and print it. In terms of the performance itself, the chorus and instruments of Oficina musicum play with vigor, accuracy, and precision. Favero keeps the short movements moving along, but they are never too fast, so the recitatives are appropriately fluid, and the ariosos and arias stand out by virtue of their lyricism rather than their display. Raffaele Giordani’s clear tenor voice expresses considerable anguish as Zedekiah, while I’ve already commented upon Testolin’s sonorous bass. The sons, performed by Lia Serafini and Francesca Mazzulli, are equally precise. In short, this is an extremely fine disc and although one can find examples of the three sonatas elsewhere in the catalog, this disc really should be a part of any collection of Baroque music.
FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
Works on This Recording
Il Sedecia by Giovanni Legrenzi
Andrea Arrivabene (Countertenor),
Francesca Lombardi (Soprano),
Raffaele Giordani (Tenor),
Walter Testolin (Bass),
Lia Serafini (Soprano)
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