And indeed it is A Good Thing to have the opportunity to listen to a cycle of six Italian cantatas, since most examples of the genre available in modern recordings are single works.
But Ariosti? In the program booklet, Keith Anderson argues for the artistic significance of Ariosti, tracing his career as a viola performer and composer throughout Europe, and building an especially convincing connection with England and Handel. And indeed, Ariosti is certainly relevant among a number of skilled musicians who took advantage of the English fashion for Italian music in the first quarter of the 1700s, serving especially the Hanoverian court and its circles. But these six cantatas, while historically interesting, are not especially riveting music; and regrettably, the performance at hand doesn’t do much to “sell” the trans-historical worth of this remarkable violist’s compositions.
The scoring of the cantatas opens up a problem right away: the combination of baroque flute and baroque violin can be jarring given their very different timbres, and in this recording this reviewer finds it not especially pleasant. Reviol has a lovely tone (especially in the long notes), but her Italian pronunciation is awkward, the enunciation of words is sometimes blurred (especially in the arias), and her choice of breaths within a phrase is sometimes puzzling. van der Poel also has a somewhat tentative pronunciation, though her voice is rich and her delivery is more convincing.
Calling a harpsichord tinkly might seem analogous to calling coal black; but the instrument chosen for this recording is especially sewing-machine-like, and the phrasing and articulation used does not improve the situation (this harshness is especially noticeable in Cantata 5, “The Shipwreck”, but it does not seem to be a programmatic choice). However, the other continuo player – lutenist and theorbist Toshimoro Ozaki – plays with sensitivity and nuance, and the second cantata (“Honest Love”), in which he is joined by Robert Nikolayczik on gamba, is the most lovely of the bunch.
Filling in the remainder of the CD are two trio-sonatas, one by Locatelli and one by Vivaldi; flute and violin, now alone, seem better matched, but the harpsichord is still annoyingly tinkly – it would have been interesting for this reviewer to hear how Ozaki’s theorbo might have provided variety in the basso continuo realization. Still, these two works seem more an afterthought than a true match for the Ariosti cycle.
A note in the booklet indicates that texts for the recording are available online on the Naxos site as .pdf files. This is a rather ingenious solution to the high costs of booklet reproduction, but those who acquire the CD will have to resign themselves to keeping the texts separate from the CD itself, which might turn out to be annoying.
I am very glad that this recording was made, and I will ask my university library to acquire it. It provides a rare teaching example of a style that brings the baroque idiom to a simplicity that foreshadows the gallant approach which would soon land on and conquer British shores. But perhaps characterizing this as a crucial teaching recording for musicologists is damning praise indeed.
The University of Texas at Austin