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GRAMOPHONE (06/2017)
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Reviewer: David Vickers

Scholars used to think that Scarlatti’s St John Passion was a very early work influenced by two similar settings by his uncle Vincenzo Amato (maestro di cappella of Palermo’s cathedral from 1665). Nowadays it is reckoned that a manuscript in the Conservatorio San Pietro a Majella might be Scarlatti’s autograph dating from around 1685 – placing it firmly into the context of Naples, where he had recently become maestro di cappella of the viceroy’s Royal Chapel, and contemporary to a similar St John Passion by the chapel’s organist Gaetano Veneziano (which has been recorded by Antonio Florio – Glossa, 7/16).

Leonardo García Alarcón positions every movement of the St John Passion between meditative choral responses attributed to Scarlatti in a manuscript dated 1705 in Bologna’s Accademia Filarmonica (and which also have stylistic common ground with Holy Week lessons by Veneziano). The resulting hybrid is an unhistorical Passiontide pasticcio but the warmly expressive results make convincing textual sense.

Alarcón paces the narrative in the Passion with a firm eye on colourful dramatisation, although sometimes he contrives theatricality where the music might not have been designed to convey it. For example, triple harp continuo is not merely anachronistic but its overabundance is intrusive; regardless of performance practice, some penitential simplicity would not have gone amiss. Giuseppina Bridelli’s emotive Evangelist and Salvo Vitale’s searing Christus convey poignant characterisations of the Passion text, and the plangent Namur Chamber Choir reveal the polyphonic responses to be the most interesting music on offer. The creation of transitions such as the responses ‘Ecce vidimus eum’ (inserted after the arrest of Christ), ‘Omnes amici mei’ (to insinuate weeping after the denial of Peter) and ‘O vos omnes’ (after Christ’s last words) works very well, but creates an illusion that Scarlatti’s Passion is more immediately compelling on musical grounds than it would be without them.


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