Handel • Caldara
This recording epitomises early music at its best: discovered music, recovered insights and above all, excellent musicianship. The programme reinvents a Vespers service at the Church of Santa Maria di Montesanto for the 15-16 July Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, between 1709 and 1715. The festival was one of Rome’s most magnificent. After watching processions, floats and outdoor illuminations, the devout thronged into the church for a musical extravaganza. Orchestra, chorus and soloists transformed sacred into secular space, where sparkling new music ranged alongside chant, prayers and earlier antiphon settings to wow listeners. During these years, both Caldara and Handel composed for the Vespers, their music likely mingling, as here, in more than one performance.
Thanks to the derring-do of conductor Alessandro de Marchi, the contrasts between Handel’s fire and Caldara’s poise leap to our attention. In allegro tempos, for instance, the band compresses Handel’s mottos into hard-edged units that build relentlessly; in Caldara’s music, similar rhythms are reworked into smooth lines. In the first movement of Handel’s Dixit Dominus, the choir sections jostle to dominate, unleashing huge energy, while in Caldara’s Laetatus sum by contrast, the same voices blend gorgeously to illuminate symmetries of voicing. While countertenor Martin Oro beautifully animates his words, the star of this performance is Roberta Invernizzi. Her tender passages ravish the ear; her coloratura fires the imagination; her blend with obbligato instruments is perfect; her extemporisations surprise and delight. This recording is a huge achievement, only briefly marred by two minutes of weak tenor and bass solo singing. Otherwise, it’s pure delectation.