A SCARLATTI Cantate da camera
Alessandro Scarlatti composed over 700 chamber cantatas, so we can’t be surprised if a new disc serves up what appear to be six premiere recordings. Nor, given the evidence of previous releases, should we have reason to suspect that the well of individual and stimulating compositions has run dry yet. The Arcadian duets and solo cantatas presented here each deal with a different but plausible aspect of the pleasures and pains of love, drawing sensitively tailored responses from their fertile-minded composer. They include a would-be lover too embarrassed to say anything to his adored one, and another who dreams of his love by night, only to curse her hard-heartedness in the light of day. The anguish of separation is explored, and amorous success celebrated in erotic metaphor. The duet O penosa lontananza wittily presents two different views of separation simultaneously: ‘O painful separation … I live in weeping’ sings Chloris; ‘O blessed separation, I live in peace’ sings Lydia. Who has not known one or more of these predicaments?
As usual Scarlatti’s music flits between Handelian spaciousness and the more compact and direct expression of the late 17th century. Yet consistent to it is a strong lyrical gift and a song-writer’s ability to conjure a mood swiftly and effectively. The composer’s agile responses to the words – especially in recitative – were criticised by some in his day for trying too hard, but the variety this brings is just what ought to lend it appeal to modern ears wary of when Baroque music gets formulaic.
Variety also characterises the assured and often powerful performances by Scherzi Musicali, who not only continually vary the scoring of accompaniment from a continuo team of harpsichord, organ, three lutes, harp and bass violin but also find for each piece its own appropriate atmosphere. Director Nicolas Achten sings in a penetrating baritone, rather like a lower-lying equivalent of an haute-contre, while also playing theorbo and harp; and Deborah Cachet is an immensely pleasing and confident soprano – a voice to listen out for.