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Cappella della Pietà de' Turchini

This review is an Ionarts exclusive.

Hearing the Cappella della Pietà de' Turchini for the first time this summer in Siena, the thought did occur: why is this group specializing in Neapolitan music of the 17th and 18th centuries not as well known in the United States as other Italian historically informed performance ensembles? One part of the answer is that they have never toured here before, until now, that is. Thanks to Prof. Anthony R. DelDonna, a Neapolitan specialist on the musicology faculty at Georgetown University, the group made its American debut here in Washington. On Saturday night, a selection of musicians and two singers associated with the group presented a program called Angeli e demoni to a partially filled Gaston Hall, a beautiful venue on the Georgetown campus.

The program, billed as featuring music by Paisiello, Sarro, Caresana, and Veneziano, was thoroughly transformed by the time of performance, but to no disappointment. On the vocal selections, two of the singers heard in Siena made similar impressions this time. Soprano Maria Ercolano's reedy voice has a dusky timbre, with plenty of heft, and yet can move with impressive agility. She was particularly effective as a less than retiring Dido in the startling selection Son Regina e Son Amante, from Piccinni's Didone Abbandonata. Character tenor Giuseppe de Vittorio's voice is not his main asset, but his timing and comic sense often stole the show. Reprising the hysterical and naughty intermezzo buffo by Giuseppe Petrini (Graziella e Nello) from their Siena performance, Ercolano and de Vittorio both sang en travesti. De Vittorio's campy antics even had the violin section at the edge of uncontrollable laughter. He also has an idiomatic and funny approach to the Neapolitan dialect, as in a selection from Faggioli's La Cilla.

Antonio Florio, conductor
The most pleasing discoveries of the program were the instrumental pieces that alternated with the vocal ones. Conductor Antonio Florio favors a solid and energetic style, more accurate than flashy, perhaps leaning a little too much toward tidiness. String ensembles of all kinds should look for the C major sonata played here, by Domenico Gallo, a lovely and harmonically tasty three movements that would fill out a Baroque program beautifully. Excerpts from the works of Leonardo Vinci, a sinfonia and the overture to his opera Partenope, were also worthy. An anonymous string pastorale is another example of that folksy genre in Italian music (to which the Pifa in Handel's Messiah is related). The long sections over a pedal point, in imitation of a shepherds' musette sounding over the fields, could have benefitted from some gentle, improvised filler from a theorbo to add interest, but a theorbist was not brought along for the trip.

In general, the group played with finesse and strength, with the continuo side occasionally just a hair ahead of Florio's beat, which drove ahead, rock-steady, usually directly to its conclusion without much slowing down. Lead violinist Alessandro Ciccolini played once again with flair and an adventurous capacity for embellishment, as in his figuration added to the final statement of the opening work. That charming chaconne and pastorale Peccatori, su, su by Orazio Giaccio was the program's only nod to the Christmas season. As the first holiday music we have heard this month, it was a tasteful and historically interesting way to begin.

The Capella della Pietà de' Turchini made one other U.S. appearance, at Corpus Christi Church in Manhattan, on December 2.

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