Cristofaro Caresana Per la Nascita del Verbo
However persuasively packaged, and despite everything we know about Opus 111’s distinctive product, Caresana’s cantatas are hardly big-time baroque. But he who cocks a snook too hastily forgoes something of a treat. Antonio Florio’s exotic-sounding group, Cappella della Pieta de’Turchini (Turchini means turquoise which was the colour of the tunics of one of Naples’s leading conservatoires at the time) are just the fillip for those who need constant reminding that the musical world revolved more around seventeenth-century Naples than it did the majority of centres who patronized the great composers. This is of course the problem with so much of this underrated and glorious century: not enough Monteverdis, Charpentiers, Buxtehudes or Purcells. Instead, encyclopaedias of ‘worthy’ representatives from forgotten musical meccas who gently guide us through the uncomfortable terrain of hybrid genres, not-quite-established forms and mesmerizing vocal peaks and troughs – and eventually (phew) towards Corelli a few miles up the road.
Naples post-1650 is, however, a refreshing and colourful example of a musical style every bit as accessible and potent as Corelli, and often more interesting. Neapolitans may not have enjoyed being lauded over by the Spanish but musically it makes for a fascinating musical cocktail, and judging by Caresana’s cantatas and the Storace piece, such a historical juxtaposition of styles contributes directly to the resourceful realization of strong texts and responsive musical imagery. Just as impressive is the way these short pieces unfold so effortlessly – La Pastorale is outstanding in this respect – within a contemporary aesthetic of contrast. The performers are more than alert to the expressive colours of these festive Nativity works: the sopranos pursue a line not unlike Rinaldo Alessandrini’s Concerto Italiano, breathing the language’s own music with a breezy delight and a natural, living vibrato. The opening of Caresana’s La Tarantella is a case in point. The instrumental playing, if not always precise, is pleasantly soft-grained and in timbre complements the full consort, which itself is not entirely conventional, especially the rather grainy tenor sound.
Naples’s own theatrical religiosity is an upbeat and secular affair and the characters comment on Christ’s birth with splendidly far-fetched ostentation. Despite one or two rough edits, this is an offering with personality and vigour. The pieces are good, the performances very strong and most important, exhibited here is musicianship of the most persuasive kind. It communicates where it matters.'