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24.11.10

Alessandro Scarlatti's Trinity Oratorio

available at Amazon
A. Scarlatti, Oratorio per la Santissima Trinità, R. Invernizzi, V. Gens, V. Genaux, Europa Galante, F. Biondi

(re-released on October 25, 2010)
Virgin 628647 2 | 67'27"
Although Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725) was one of the most lauded composers of the Italian Baroque, his music is largely unknown today. If we have reviewed the occasional recording or referred once in a while to others' reviews of his music, we hear anything by this composer all too rarely in a live performance. The little oratorio, in the Roman style, recorded lovingly in this re-release from Fabio Biondi and his ensemble Europa Galante is indeed an oddity (receiving its U.S. premiere, under Biondi, only in 2003). The libretto sets five allegorical characters off against one another, in a sort of coffee-house argument about the nature of the Trinity -- all in operatic Italian verses preset for recitatives, arias, and duets. The work is episodic in a way intended to divert the listener, with most of the nearly fifty movements requiring less than a minute or two to perform. This 1715 oratorio for the feast of the Holy Trinity comes from the composer's second tenure in Naples, at a time when his musical style was well on its way to being out of vogue. Even the great biographer of the elder Scarlatti, Edward Dent, dismisses the Oratorio per la Santissima Trinità as having a subject "not at all appropriate for musical treatment" (especially in operatic stanzas), adding curtly that "Scarlatti has, if possible, surpassed his poet in dryness."

Biondi's ensemble, just refined strings and varied continuo, provides lean and elegant lines in support of the singers. The three treble voices are all excellent: Véronique Gens as a maternal Amor Divino (Divine Love) and Vivica Genaux as a particularly earthy Teologia (Theology), but especially the heavenly Fede (Faith) of Roberta Invernizzi. Unfortunately, the two men are a disappointment, although not a disaster. Tenor Paul Agnew sounds just slightly rusty and nasal as Infedeltà (Faithlessness, or Atheism), while bass Roberto Abbondanza makes a resonant but kooky Tempo (Time), with some melismas on 'o' and 'a' vowels sounding as if he articulated the notes by slightly closing his lips to make semi-vowels, as in the aria Pretende invano. So, this is more a curiosity for Baroque music lovers than a must-have, although the only competition is a recording by the Alessandro Stradella Consort, now expensive. For the collector, it may be better to seek out a copy of the original release of this disc, from 2004, even if it costs a little more, to get the text and translation of the libretto, which was omitted from the booklet for the re-release.

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