Thursday 29 November 2018

Antonio Caldara - cantatas for bass

Caldara - Cantatas for Bass - Stile Galante - Pan Classics
Antonio Caldara Cantatas for Bass; Sergio Foresti, Stile Galante, Stefano Aresi; Pan Classics Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 28 November 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
A valuable opportunity to explore six dramatic yet intimate cantatas by this underrated figure

Despite a significant body of work, perhaps over 3,400 compositions, the work composer Antonio Caldara remains very much undiscovered territory with only occasional discs rather than a consistent exploration as with the oeuvre of some of his contemporaries. This new disc from Pan Classics presents six of Caldara's cantatas for bass voice and continuo, performed by Sergio Foresti and Stile Galante (Agnieszka Oszanca cello, Gabriele Palomba theorbo, Andrea Friggi harpsichord) directed by Stefano Aresi.

The CD booklet article suggests that one reason for the lack of diffusion of Caldara's music in the present day is that his career was almost entirely devoted to working for a series of noble and Imperial families, culminating in his service to the Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna from 1716 to 1736. So that much of Caldara's repertoire was performed once, albeit in grand circumstances, and then the manuscripts disappeared into the archives without the dissemination of copies which helped to make music known during the period.

On this disc we hear six cantatas for bass voice and continuo which come from a manuscript created in the 18th century which survives in Bologna and seems to have been created for a particular bass singer, the manuscript also includes music by Antonio and Giovanni Bononcini. One of Caldara's employers, Emperor Charles VI, had a preference for low voices so that Caldara wrote a lot of solo cantatas for this voice and dedicated a volume of 24 cantatas to the Emperor in 1730. In fact, only one of the cantatas on this disc, Il Dario, can be linked to a work written for the Emperor. As Caldara wrote around 350 secular cantatas you cannot help feeling that there is still a lot of work to be done in the archives.

These are all continuo cantatas, for voice accompanied by keyboard, cello and theorbo, intimate works designed to be performed in relatively intimate surroundings. Only two of the cantatas fit into the popular Arcadian pastoral  genre often used in cantatas, the others identify the bass soloist with a powerful mythological or heroic historic figure, Darius, Polyphemus, Samson and Brutus, who is at a turning point in his career. So we can see a parallel with cantatas by composers such as Handel where the subjects tend to be either pastoral or a protagonist (usually female) under great emotional stress.

The result is a series of highly imaginative works, which give the singer opportunities to exhibit a whole variety of emotions. And Caldara's responses to the texts are highly interesting, with Bruto a'Romani being almost a series of political speeches using a lot of arioso elements. And again in Polifemo Caldara uses a lot of arioso in the mix. These cantatas give us the flavour of a very particular composer, and it would be lovely to hear a greater selection of his works.

Whilst they are classified as being for the bass voice, some of them sound quite baritonal in quality. Sergio Foresti has quite an interesting and rather grainy textured voice which is highly expressive but which seems not to quite capture the full range of the music. Listening to a whole disc is not quite ideal, but dipping in an sampling a single cantata is a great experience. Foresti is well supported by the players from Stile Galante.

This is a very important and very welcome disc. If, perhaps, it is not quite ideal, then it is still a valuable contribution to the (slowly) expanding Caldara repertoire on disc.

Antonio Caldara (1670-1716) - Bruto a' Romani
Antonio Caldara - A destar l'alba col canto
Antonio Caldara - Il Polifemo
Antonio Caldara - Il Dario
Antonio Caldara - Partenza amorosa
Antonio Caldara - Il Sansone
Sergio Foresti (baritone)
Stile Galante
Stefano Aresi (direction)
Recorded at Schuilkerk De Hoop, Diemen, The Netherlands, 18-19 April, 3-4 July 2018
PAN CLASSICS PC 10389 1CD [66.22]
Available from Amazon.

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  • Old Bones: Nico Muhly, Iestyn Davies and the Aurora Orchestra at Kings Place (★★★½) - concert review
  • Storytelling in music: Kevin Puts and his opera Silent Night - interview
  • Puccini premiere:  Opera Rara gives the original version of Le Willis a rare outing (★★★★) -  Opera review
  • Long time ago: Samling showcase at the Wigmore Hall (★★★★) - concert review
  • A series of concentric circles: Aaron Holloway-Nahum and the Riot Ensemble  - interview
  • Auf Flügeln des Gesanges: Romantic songs and piano transcriptions from Christoph Prégardien & Cyprien Katsaris (★★★★★) - CD review
  • The English Concert in Baroque concertos  - (★★★★) CD review
  • Widening the audience: I chat to Christopher Glynn about his Schubert in English project - interview
  • Staging the unstageable: Britten's War Requiem at English National Opera (★★★★) - opera review
  • Rare Tchaikovsky and Smyth: an earlier version of the piano concerto and Smyth's large-scale mass at the Barbican  (★★★★) - concert review
  • Elgar, Finzi, Parry, Walton from a different angle: arrangements for brass septet  (★★★★) - CD review
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