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Briefly Noted: Domenico Scarlatti

available at Amazon
D. Scarlatti, Stabat Mater (inter alia), Emmanuelle de Negri, Paul-Antoine Bénos-Djian, Le Caravansérail, Bertrand Cuiller

(released on April 8, 2022)
Harmonia Mundi HMM905340DI | 76'22"
The little surviving sacred music by Domenico Scarlatti should be sung more often than it is. In my limited experience with it as a choral singer, it is always worth knowing. Bertrand Cuiller puts a setting of the Stabat Mater at the center of this recent survey of the composer's music with Le Caravansérail, the early music ensemble he founded in 2015. Cuiller conducts the work from the organ, leading a small continuo ensemble consisting of cellist Bruno Cocset, plus double bass and archlute. This puts the emphasis appropriately on the voices, soprano Emmanuelle de Negri and countertenor Paul-Antoine Bénos-Djian, blossoming into a rarefied choral sound at climaxes with eight other singers.

Cuiller shifts gears with the remaining pieces on the disc, all of a secular nature, which he performs on or leads from a harpsichord. The selections highlight the melodic variety of Scarlatti the Younger, from the somber Keyboard Sonata in D Minor, K.213 (Cuiller on harpsichord), to an unusual arrangement of the Sonata in G Major, K. 144, for harpist Bérengère Sardin. The group's lead violinist plays the diverting Sonata in D Minor, K. 90, one of the multi-movement sonatas Scarlatti left open to the possibility of performing with added instruments. The disc also includes a movement from one of the Scarlatti sonatas enlarged as a concerto grosso by English composer Charles Avison.

Other vocal works include three arias from the opera Amor d’un’Ombra e Gelosia d’un’aura, composed in Rome and later adapted as Narciso for London, as well as the cantata Pur nel sonno almen tal'ora, composed during Scarlatti's later period in Madrid. Sardin gets another pleasing harp turn on the Minuetto that forms the latter's second movement. Of the two leading soloists, de Negri is the more consistenly pleasing, featured beautifully in the cantata's three vocal movements, as Bénos-Djian at times falls into the nasal shrillness associated with some countertenor voices at loud dynamics. The two singers are heard together to their best effect, as Narcissus and Echo, in the final selection from Amor d'un'Ombra.

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