Sinfonias: No. 3 in G; No. 7 in C; No. 10 in G; No. 15 in B♭. Sonatas: in d,
; in d,
Federico Guglielmo, cond; Marina Bartoli (
); Makoto Sakurada (
); Giulio Mastrotaro (
); L’Arte dell’Arco (period instruments)
CPO 777 555 (63:59
Text and Translation)
The extremely short three-movement sinfonias on this album (one runs only 2:38) and the somewhat better known sonatas for solo instrument and continuo make for pleasant listening, with their attractive themes, rhythmic liveliness, and sudden harmonic detours, but Scarlatti’s early
is the real curiosity here. It was due to be staged as a comic intermezzo between the acts of an opera seria for the 1715 carnival season of Rome’s Teatro Capranica, but was withdrawn by the Roman authorities at the last minute. The librettist, Girolamo Gigli, claimed in a letter that it was the fault of the musicians who thought they were being ridiculed, and brought in noble protectors and the censor. However, the libretto shows that only one musician is being ridiculed: a soprano, referred to in passing by the opera’s characters as La Calandrina, whom (we are told) declaimed one evening in Pavia on her approach to the opera house—surrounded by a throng of admirers—that she’d lost a bracelet earlier that day, and could not possibly perform. Gigli reports that she received 100 strings of pearls as replacements in less than an hour; and this is recommended as proper conduct to the young, musically challenged Dirindina for her future career. It’s not difficult to see that whether Calandrina existed or not, and whether anything like the event in question ever occurred or not, some popular local diva with powerful connections must have recognized herself as the target of this nasty bit of cruel caricature and gossip.
Gigli had the libretto printed at what he stated in a letter was his own expense, and because he felt himself injured, which is Roman-Speak for saying he saw a means of turning a scandal into a money-making proposition. There’s little more to the work, aside from a few amusing passages that show Dirindina incapable of agility, proper phrasing, or decent intonation, and a superfluous plot about a music teacher who first wants to marry Dirindina himself, and then believes she’s pregnant by a castrato(!), leading to a demand that he marry her. The music is mostly recitative, but otherwise charming if containing little that’s distinguished.
Marina Bartoli reveals an attractive top, sparkling runs, and a quick, perfectly even vibrato. She characterizes within her arias rather than just her recitatives, but is perhaps a shade too reticent portraying the vain, self-indulgent Dirindina. Makoto Sakurada has an attractive lyric tenor voice, and displays excellent production in the work’s best aria, “Queste vostre pupillette,” with good turns and a well-equalized tone. As for Giulio Mastrotaro, this is the finest performance of his I’ve yet heard, much cleaner than his frequent work in Rossini, and with excellent coloratura in “Sola voi? Mi meraviglio.” He also displays good ability at varying tone, and like Bartoli and Sakurada, brings his character to life.
I last reviewed violinist/conductor Federico Guglielmo and his L’Arte dell’Arco in a 2009 release of Veracini concertos. Their style of performance in music of the period hasn’t changed since then, if this album is anything to judge by: high energy, precise, strong attacks, and a sound weighted to the bright end of the scale by the presence of six violinists. (By contrast, they have two violists, two cellists, and a single violone.) They’re still occasionally a little rough around the edges in virtuosic passages, as in the first
movement of the Sinfonia 10, but their combination of spirit and persuasive phrasing easily wins out. Guglielmo on his own is a colorist with few peers on the baroque violin, employing a vibrato of varying intensity, a mix of heavy accents, and bow placements to fine effect.
I do have problems with the engineering on this release, however. A hybrid SACD, the recording is distant and hard-sounding on two speakers. Only in a typical surround-sound setup does it have the fullness to do justice to Guglielmo, and his small but attractive orchestra. Mastrotaro comes off still worse. In stereo he’s so far off-mike and missing in lower frequencies as to render his baritone a caricature of itself. On its own,
is too slender to hold much interest, but the rest of the material is better, and the performances excellent. Recommended if you want to listen in surround sound; otherwise, don’t bother.