Monday 13 October 2014

Resurrecting a Caldara rarity

La concordia de'pianeti
Antonio Caldara La concordia de'pianeti; La Cetra; Andrea Marcon; Archiv
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 23 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Engaging performance of Caldara's rediscovered, grand out-door serenata

Antonio Caldara (1670 - 1736) isn't a familiar name. Born 14 years before Handel and Bach, he trained at St. Mark's Venice. He had a rather varied career, taking service with the French client Duke of Mantua, and the pretender to the Spanish throne before reaching Venice and Francesco Ruspoli, Prince of Cerveteri. Finally, in 1716 he took a position at the Viennese court and remained there for the rest of his life.

Caldara's employer in Venice, Emperor Charles VI was fond of opera and was a composer himself. Charles had strong views on music and liked an opulent sound. Caldara's music from Vienna eschewed the airy Italianate sound of his early works, and used large scale forces to create a richness of tone. Caldara wrote an extensive sequence of operas and oratorios in Vienna. This new disc from Archiv gives us the first recording of his serenata La concordia de'pianeti with Andrea Marcon conducting La Cetra barockorchester & Vokalensemble Basel with soloists Delphine Galou, Veronica Cangemi, Ruxandra Donose, Franco Fagioli, Carlos Mena, Daniel Behle and Luca Tittoto. The work was recorded in conjunction with the work's first modern performance.

Whilst it might be called a serenata, La concordia de'pianeti is a large scale work lasting 108 minutes and requiring seven strong soloists. It was designed for display, but written for out of doors. It was premiered in 1723 when Emperor Charles and his wife, Empress Elisabeth, visited Znojmo Castle after Charles had been crowned King of Bohemia in Prague. Elisabeth was pregnant and the plot, such as it is, has the Gods on Olympus celebrating this event. The original performers were costumed and on two grand 'cars'; it was described not as an opera but a theatrical composition. The original cast included the castrato Carestini (who would create the title role in Ariodante for Handel) as Apollo (here sung by Franco Fagioli).

The work is carefully constructed to show off the soloists. After a substantial overture the work falls neatly into two parts. It starts with a chorus, there is a chorus in the middle and a pair of choruses at the end, for the remainder it is a series of bravura arias interlinked with recitative, with each character getting roughly two arias so that everyone got to show off.

Though Caldara's style in Vienna was known for its richness and contrapuntalism, here he is clearly aware of his outdoor performance and relies very much on colour and depth of tone in the orchestration. He uses an orchestra which includes clarinos, trumpets, oboes and bassoon. The work is full of colour, lightness and richness. This, plus a series of bravura arias. The original cast were clearly virtuosos and the singers here do not disappoint, all give finely poised and technically assured performances. There's not a great deal of characterisation, the soloists get simply to sing a couple of very striking arias and none of the soloists, Delphine Galou, Veronica Cangemi, Ruxandra Donose, Franco Fagioli, Carlos Mena, Daniel Behle and Luca Tittoto, disappoints but Fagioli's high counter-tenor is particularly impressive, singing a role written for a castrato in the mezzo-soprano range.

I wouldn't say that Caldara's La concordia de'pianeti was a lost masterpiece, but there is a great deal to enjoy here. Throughout the performance Marcon brings out an appealing vitality which draws the performer in. This is far more than a dutiful recreation, but a lively and engaging performance which should delight both for the virtuoso moments and for the engaging quality of the music making.

Antonio Caldara (1670 - 1736) - La concordia de'pianeti (1723) [108.04]
Venere - Delphine Galou
Diana - Veronica Cangemi
Giova - Ruxandra Donose
Apollo - Franco Fagioli
Marte - Carlos Mena
Mercurio - Daniele Behle
Saturno - Luca Tittoto
Vokalensemble Basel
La Cetra Barockorchester
Recorded 13-19 January 2014, Konzerthaus, Dortmund

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