The virtue of this disc, and of similar explorations into
neglected repertoire, is that it gives the listener the chance to make his own judgments about style
and historical inevitability, without having to peruse rare scores in some dusty library corner.
These works, from the late 1750s, have nothing to do with those remnants of the baroque which
J.S. Bach was still raking over ten years earlier, but are the music of the future — one can see
why J.C. Bach chose to travel to Sammartini's Milan at exactly this time (he spent the years
1755-1762 there, arriving, as the New Grove discreetly puts it "possibly in the company of an
Italian lady singer"). The content of these two cantatas would likely have horrified Bach senior
— operatic conversations between St. Peter (a soprano), St. John (contralto) and even odder, St.
Maria Magdalene as a tenor, in the first cantata, and between three Marys (Mary Magdalene,
Mary of Cleophas, Mary Salome — the two half-sisters of the Virgin) in the second.
Listening to these works one indeed sees how much Mozart and the Viennese were in debt to the
music of Sammartini and his contemporaries, both in the instrumental symphonies which open
the works, and in the arias. Unfortunately Ferrari's recording is not the most congenial manner in
which to get to know these works. Soprano Silvia Mapelli is worthy of praise, with a light, lyric,
feminine soprano, well-tuned, attractive, and musical. Her colleagues, alas, are not at this level.
Bulgarian mezzo Miroslava Yordanova has an aggressive production which is practically a shout,
particularly in the anti-Semitic aria given to St. John in the Passione; if I heard that sound in the
street I would run the other way. Giorgio Tiboni has an over-bright tenor, like a blaring cornet —
all brilliance, with no warmth and no subtlety of inflection. These two weary the ear. The
orchestra is competent.
A disc of historical, but not of esthetic, interest.