SCARLATTI Dixit Dominus HANDEL Dixit Dominus
There are four extant settings of Dixit Dominus by Alessandro Scarlatti. Half are simple stile antico pieces but the Choir of Queen’s College, Oxford, perform one of the more elaborate settings for SATB voices (soloists and choir), strings and continuo that has been recorded before by Trevor Pinnock (Nicholas McGegan’s ‘The Cecilian Vespers’ uses Scarlatti’s other stile concertante setting – Avie, 12/04). However, this is the first time the elder Scarlatti’s setting has been partnered by Handel’s perennial Dixit Dominus; there are some structural similarities and Owen Rees’s booklet-note suggests that perhaps the younger composer’s dramatic treatment of the psalm was influenced by Scarlatti’s solemn setting (or vice versa). Maybe so. But it seems likelier that Handel’s model was the extrovert Venetian setting by Lotti (recorded by Matthias Jung for CPO).
It is not a criticism of the Oxonians to suggest that we learn the most about Scarlatti. Matthew Brook sings the agile bass solo ‘Dominus a dextris tuis’ authoritatively, and the soloists and choir interweave eloquently in ‘Judicabit in nationibus’. The Brook Street Band play Handel’s opening ritornello with sensitivity to rhetoric, and I enjoyed Sally Bruce-Payne’s intelligent singing and Tatty Theo’s conversational cello obbligato in ‘Virgam virtutis tuae’. The fresh-voiced choir offer an enjoyable juxtaposition of soft shapeliness and clear diction in each composer’s opening choruses and closing doxologies, but 33 choristers and 12 instrumentalists is a musical imbalance unlikely to have been encountered in early 18th-century Rome.