Cesarini (1665-1741) spent most of his career in Rome, where he was active
as a composer of sacred music and a much admired producer of solo cantatas.
A good 70 of his survive (others we know about are lost), and he stands with
Alessandro Scarlatti—five years his senior—among the most important masters
of this vocal form. Much of his career was spent under the wing of Cardinal
Benedetto Pamphili. That name might ring a bell, for that prelate, a
culture-loving patron, a poet, and librettist himself, was also an
enthusiastic supporter of the young Handel during the later’s stay in Rome.
Cesarini was thus an immediate member of the circle where Handel worked, and
the Italian’s cantatas give us the kind of models that Handel followed.
Followed and outstripped. The six cantatas presented here are fine examples
of their type: five to eight movements, mostly in recitativearia sequences,
some with instrumental introductions, some with only continuo accompaniment
but others with two violins added. They are challenging exercises for the
vocalist, but also are full of nice tunes. Yet they cannot help but make
clear how much greater a composer Handel was and why his hosts made such a
fuss over him. The soloist, Varnerin, has a bright, strong soprano voice,
full of spirit, though often slipping into edginess. She is totally in
command of her music, with its frequent virtuosic demands. Still, there
seems to be a general quality of objectivity in her approach to the words,
missing the constant emotions of unhappy love they present. The five
instrumentalists (Tabacco at the harpsichord) are first-rate. The sound is
fine, and the booklet includes texts and translations.
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