Tuesday 23 September 2014

Jommelli - chamber cantatas

Niccolo Jommelli - chamber cantatas - Stile Galante
Niccolo Jommelli chamber cantatas; Yetzabel Arias Fernandez, Stile Galante, Stefano Aresi; Pan Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 13 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Chamber cantatas from one of the important figures in 18th century Italian opera

The 18th century Italian composer Niccolo Jommelli is best known, if all, for his operas. This new disc from soprano Yetzabel Arias Fernandez and Stile Galante, director Stefano Aresi, showcases another side to Jomelli, his chamber cantatas. The disc records four of these, Didone abbandonanta, E quando sara mai che alle mie pena, Partir convenia, addio! and La Gelosia along with Sonata VI for harpsichord solo by Francesco Durante.

For their previous disc Stile Galante explored the output of Leonardo Vinci (see my review) and this new disc continues their exploration 18th century Italian opera. The Neapolitan composer Niccolo Jommelli (1714 - 1774) studied at the conservatories in Naples and was very influenced by Johann Adolph Hasse who was in Naples at this time. Whilst in Bologna for the performance for one of his operas, Jomelli met Padre Martini and seems to have studied with him. His career as an operatic composer took him to Rome, Venice, Vienna and finally Stuttgart where he worked for the Duke Karl Eugen of Wurtemburg and greatest successes. Mozart and his father met Jomelli at the Palace of Ludwigsburg, outside Stuttgart, in 1763.

The baroque cantata essentially gave the Italian 18th century patron the opportunity to have opera in his living room. This was opera up close, the cantatas enabled a star singer to show off with a short scene (usually a sequence of recitatives and arias) set by the composer, who would probably be at the harpsichord. Composers frequently used cantatas as a proving ground for ideas which would then find their way into operas. We don't know why, or for whom, Jomelli wrote his cantatas and few by him survive. Those securely attributed to him are generally written for solo voice and a small group of strings. On a stylistic basis, the cantatas on this disc seem to be early works which were written long before Jomelli settled in Stuttgart in 1753.

Niccolo Jomelli
Niccolo Jommelli
Jommelli was responsible for quite a few developments in the field of opera and he wrote quite a lot of accompanied recitative, in fact in many ways his operas are almost as important as Gluck's. In the cantatas on this disc we get a taste of this with Jommelli's use of accompanied recitative. Didone Abbandonata has a highly dramatic piece of writing in the libretto accompanied as recitative by the strings. In fact in most of the cantatas, the recitatives are highly vivid and involving in a way which does no always happen in those of earlier composers.

It helps that performers on this disc, soprano Yetzabel Arias Fernandez and Stile Galante, give wonderfully intent and vividly involving performances which bring out the drama of the cantatas; the plots, inevitably, all seem to involve suffering women

Yetzabel Arias Fernandez - photo by B. Arencibia 2014
Yetzabel Arias Fernandez
photo by B. Arencibia
Cuban-born Arias Fernandez has a very straight toned voice, direct and plangent with a nice bright, forward feel to it. She uses it expressively, and intelligently and the results in these cantatas is highly involving. But the cantatas are also about showing off, and it is clear that Arias Fernandez has a very admirable technique. She is able to encompass the plangency of the slower numbers, as well as the vivid bravura required for the showier piece. Jommelli clearly knew how to show his singers off to their best advantage, and each cantata has at least one aria which comes into this category. But with Jommelli you never feel that virtuosity was an end in itself, in this he was a true contemporary of Gluck. The cantatas have a dramatic logic which is highly appealing, especially in performances as accomplished and involving as these.

Arias Fernandez is stylishly accompanied by Stile Galante, directed by Stefano Aresi. Many of the arias seem to feature the first violin in almost obliggato mode so that some of the arias almost become duets between soprano and violin.

In the middle of the disc we get a harpsichord sonata by Francesco Durante (1684 - 1755), another Neapolitan composer and Jommelli was one of his pupils. Durante himself was a pupil of Alessandro Scarlatti. His sonata forms a lovely pause point in the sea of emotion.

This disc would be recommendable on the simple basis of the interest and scarcity of Jomelli's works in the catalogue. But these performances from Arias Fernandez and Stile Galante go well beyond the merely recommendable, and you will not be disappointed by the very high level of technical and musical achievement here; this is bravura virtuosity in the service of drama.

Niccolo Jomelli (1714 - 1774) - Didone abbandonata [12.53]
Niccolo Jomelli (1714 - 1774) - E quando sara mai che alle mie pene [13.14]
Niccolo Jomelli (1714 - 1774) - Partir conviene, addio! [23.53]
Niccolo Jomelli (1714 - 1774) - La Gelosia [17.14]
Yetzabel Arias Fernandez (soprano)
Stile Galante
Stefando Aresi (direction)
Recorded at Palazzo Visconi, Brignano, Gera d'Adda, Italy in October 2013
PAN CLASSICS 10308 1CD [74.00]
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