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GRAMOPHONE (07/2015)
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Reviewer: David Vickers


Caldara had already written at least 19 oratorios for Mantua and Rome before 1716, when he entered the service of Emperor Charles VI in Vienna. Over the next 20 years he wrote 23 oratorios for Lenten concert seasons. Along with works by colleagues Fux and Conti, this brought about a specifically Viennese tradition of the Oratorio al Santissimo Sepolcro, using librettos designed for Holy Week that were devoted to poetic reflections on the Crucifixion and burial of Christ. Caldara’s third such ‘sepulchral’ oratorio was Morte e sepoltura di Christo (1724), first performed by a cast that included the young castrato Carestini (in the role of Maria di Giacobbe), almost a decade before Handel composed the title-role in Ariodante for him.


On this recording, key positions among the modern instruments of the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra are filled by director/ violinist Fabio Biondi and a few hand-picked Italian colleagues from his period-instrument band Europa Galante. Mary Magdalene’s first aria, ‘Deh sciogliete’, features a sombre concertante trio of two trombones and bassoon, and her plangent ‘Io t’offesi’ features Lorenzo Coppola’s intimate chalumeau obbligato playing (supported just by theorbist Giangiacomo Pinardi); with such fantastic music, the stylish Maria Grazia Schiavo can hardly go wrong. Joseph of Arimathea’s ‘Languire, morire’ has a solo trombone part (Martina Belli sings emotively but a more relaxed approach to the vocal part is imaginable). Maria di Giacobbe’s richly expressive sarabande ‘È morto il mio Gesù’ is sung passionately by Silvia Frigato, and Biondi joins Schiavo in the limelight in Mary Magdalene’s ‘Cari marmi’. Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani’s ardent Nicodemus has a striking duet with Joseph of Arimathea in which the angular driving strings illustrate the nails being driven into Christ’s hands and feet. Ugo Guagliardo’s Roman Centurion booms resonantly.


The short madrigalian choruses that close each part are over-baked on account of the expert soloists smudging the contrapuntal lines with operatic vibrato, and their strident ensemble singing also diminishes the effectiveness of the short two-minute motet Laboravi in gemitu meo (published Bologna, 1715), inserted here to function as a prologue. On a small number of occasions Biondi might be tinkering with orchestrations a little bit. He certainly inserts brief instrumental interludes: a sinfonia by Fux midway through Part 1, and Vivaldi’s Sonata al Santo Sepolcro (RV130) at the start of Part 2 – appropriate for its sepulchral connotation, although it sticks out like a sore thumb. Even without all the extra trimmings, this is an essential addition to the Caldara discography.



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