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Recordings

Giovanni Battista Sammartini: Sacred Cantatas
14 Feb 2007

SAMMARTINI: Della Passione di Gesú Cristo; L'addolorata Divina Madre.

Giovanni Battista Sammartini (c.1700-1775) belongs to that shadowy generation of Italian composers who no longer composed in the high Baroque style, but had adopted the clarity, simplicity and regularity that would serve as the building blocks for the Viennese masters of the late eighteenth century, and thus were tagged with the rather pejorative label “pre-classic” (a plague on all those music historians who can only see musical style in terms of progress leading to their particular figure of veneration!).

Giovanni Battista Sammartini: Della Passione di Gesú Cristo; L'addolorata Divina Madre

Silvia Mapelli, soprano; Miroslava Yordanova, mezzo-soprano; Giorgio Tiboni, tenor; Daniele Ferrari conducting the Symphonica Ensemble.

Naxos 8.570254 [CD]

$7.99  Click to buy

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.

Tom Moore

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