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The main work here is the only surviving example of several Latin oratorios that the youthful Alessandro Scarlatti produced in the early 1680s. Most of them were composed for Rome, but latest researches have identified this one (from 1685) as intended for Naples.
To the best of my knowledge,
this is the second recording of the work. The first goes back to the early
1950s and the earliest LP years: it was made in New Haven CT under the
direction of Howard Boatwright and issued as the very first release by the
Overtone label. This new recording was made at a public performance on
March 27, 2016 and is apparently also available in a video edition.
It is interesting to note that Scarlatti’s setting of the Latin Gospel text dates from less than 20 years after the aged Heinrich Schütz composed his setting of the German translation of that text. Schütz cast his treatment for voices only—an Evangelist (tenor), individual solo characters, and a chorus as the crowd, also singing opening and closing framing pieces. Scarlatti does essentially the same thing, with a Testo as the Evangelist (taken here somewhat incongruously by a mezzo-soprano), and with modest support by strings and continuo. But there are no framing choruses, and the work ends with the conclusion of the Gospel text.
It is surprising how, despite some differences, Scarlatti’s setting sounds close to Schütz’s—which the Italian composer presumably
did not know. Schütz had his
singers use a kind of post-plainchant declamation, whereas Scarlatti employs
a rather simplified arioso style that avoids operatic associations, with the
crowd sections (turbae) in simple chordal textures.
This Scarlatti Passion setting has its own integrity, but conductor Alarcón apparently felt it was too bald and simplistic by itself. Accordingly, he has inserted, at regular intervals, seven selections from a collection of Latin
Responsori della Settimana Santa (Responses for Holy Week) produced by the composer about 20 years later and surviving only in manuscript. The Passion setting itself takes a bit over 41 minutes, the Responsoria about 17. These interpolations do create a variety of musical textures, in the process providing a kind of liturgical commentary on the Passion story. Still, they seem to me to dilute the character of the primary work. Alarcón’s soloists are not of prime rank, but fill their assignments quite well. Bridelli is able to maintain a certain non-operatic objectivity as the Evangelist. And the Namur choir is outstanding for its suavity. The instrumental ensemble (15 string players plus six continuo) is smoothly discreet. Good notes, full texts and translations.
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