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Sammartini: Sacred Cantatas / Ferrari, Mapelli, Et Al

Release Date: 02/22/2005 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8557431   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Giovanni Battista Sammartini
Performer:  Silvia MapelliSonia PrinaMirko GuadagniniFilippo Ravizza
Conductor:  Daniele Ferrari
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Capriccio Italiano Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 18 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Although an extraordinarily active figure in his native Milan, where he served as maestro or organist at no fewer than 11 churches (according to an almanac for 1775), and long recognized as an important figure in the development of the symphony, Giovanni Battista Sammartini remains today largely ignored. In Fanfare 26:3, my colleague Barry Brenesal gave a lukewarm reception to his first opera, Memet (1732), Robert Maxham a somewhat warmer welcome to a set of six Sonate notturne (21:6), and there’s a fine Harmonia Mundi disc that includes several of his symphonies played by Ensemble 415. A few instrumental odds and ends dotted around on collections complete a picture that scarcely reflects Sammartini’s one-time Europe-wide eminence.
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He was born either at the end of 1700 or early in 1701, the son of a French oboist who immigrated to Italy. Both Giovanni Battista and his brother Giuseppe initially followed their father by becoming oboists, but G. B. soon established a considerable reputation as an organist, drawing the approbation of Charles Burney, who noted that Sammartini’s playing was “truly masterful and pleasing” when he heard him in 1770. His first significant vocal works were five cantatas, now lost, composed in 1725 for the Friday evening Lenten observations of the Congregazione of SS Entierro, a prestigious brotherhood that held its meetings in the Jesuit church of S Fedele. Three years later, Sammartini was appointed maestro di capella to the Congregazione, a position he retained for most of the remainder of his life. He died early in January 1775, his remarkably active life commemorated by a large gathering at a memorial service held on January 16.

Sammartini continued to write Lenten cantatas for the Congregazione throughout the years he was maestro to the brotherhood, there seeming little room for doubt that some at least of the “Lost: 40 sacred cantatas” cited in Grove’s worklist fall into this category. Just eight survive, five of which, including both those on the present disc, date from 1751. A recording of a further 1751 cantata, Il pianto degli angeli della pace, has been announced by Naxos (8.557432), but this has yet to come my way.

Both cantatas follow a similar design, being scored for soprano, alto (originally castratos), and tenor soloists accompanied by a standard “pre-Classical” orchestra of pairs of oboes and horns, strings, and continuo. The structure, too, is identical, with an opening Sinfonia followed by a semi-dramatized alternation of secco recitative and aria, with a concluding coro or trio, neither of which, pace Naxos’s notes, is predominantly contrapuntal. In didactic purpose and in form they are what would have been termed oratorios in the previous century. The style of the writing is advanced, already very much of the pre-Classical kind that would influence the young Mozart when he visited Italy 20 years later (Sammartini was apparently friendly toward Leopold and Wolfgang when they visited Milan). In the overtures there is something of the “spirit and fire” that Burney found “peculiar to the author,” while Sammartini’s harmonies are a constant source of interest, frequently taking quite bold paths. With one exception, that of the Virgin Mary in Maria addolorata (“The sorrowing Mary”), which is cast in repeated AB form with a concluding stretto, the arias are large-scale da capo structures.

The performances, given before a quiet audience in Milan’s Santa Maria Hoè church, are little more than serviceable, but have the not inconsiderable merit of having their heart in the right place. Ferrari’s direction tends to be rigid in quicker moving music, but he finds plenty of affecting lyricism in slower pieces, although they are invariably taken too slowly, as are recitatives, which are also much too vocalized. The best and most stylish of the soloists is the fine alto, Sonia Prina, who as Mary Cleophas has the longest and most elaborate of all the arias, a 12-minute outpouring of sorrowing sympathy for the Virgin that includes an elaborate cello obbligato part, here rather over-sentimentally played. The bright-voiced, but sensitive soprano Silvia Mapelli also gives pleasure, but I fear that Mirko Guadagnini is one of those all-purpose Italian lyric tenors with little sense of style in this repertoire, the demanding coloratura of his aria in Maria addolorata being way beyond his capabilities. The modern-instrument orchestra plays with some sense of style, but ensemble problems are not infrequent. Overall, this is quite an enjoyable disc that introduces to the catalog two works worthy of investigation by anyone interested in the still-misunderstood mid-18th century.

Brian Robins, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

Il pianto di San Pietro by Giovanni Battista Sammartini
Performer:  Silvia Mapelli (Soprano), Sonia Prina (Alto), Mirko Guadagnini (Tenor),
Filippo Ravizza (Harpsichord)
Conductor:  Daniele Ferrari
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Capriccio Italiano Ensemble
Period: Classical 
Written: 1751; Italy 
Date of Recording: 03/31/1999 
Venue:  Live  Santa Maria Hoè Parish Church, Milan, It 
Length: 38 Minutes 26 Secs. 
Language: Italian 
Maria addolorata by Giovanni Battista Sammartini
Performer:  Sonia Prina (Alto), Silvia Mapelli (Soprano), Filippo Ravizza (Harpsichord),
Mirko Guadagnini (Tenor)
Conductor:  Daniele Ferrari
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Capriccio Italiano Ensemble
Period: Classical 
Written: by 1751 
Date of Recording: 03/31/1999 
Venue:  Live  Santa Maria Hoè Parish Church, Milan, It 
Length: 39 Minutes 38 Secs. 
Language: Italian 

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