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LABELS: Opus 111
WORKS: La morte delusa
PERFORMER: Emanuela Galli (soprano), Daniela Del Monaco, Philippe Jaroussky (contralto), François Piolino (tenor), Jean-Claude Sarragosse (bass); Ensemble La Fenice/Jean Tubéry
Giovanni Battista Bassani (1654-1716) is remembered today mainly for his two sets of trio sonatas. In his own time, though, he achieved modest fame with his operas and oratorios, among them La morte delusa (Death confounded), designed to commemorate the Christian armies’ defeat of the invading Turks in 1683. Following contemporary fashion, the work takes the form of an edifying allegorical morality ranging the forces of good – Piety, Glory and Justice – against Death and Lucifer. The music is pleasant enough: there are some jolly, blustering numbers for Lucifer, a sombrely coloured lament for Death and a two-part aria for Glory which contrasts a reflective Largo with a fiery bravura outburst. Here and elsewhere the cornett – then rapidly being superseded by the trumpet – adds its clarion brilliance to the string texture. I’m glad to have heard the piece once, though I couldn’t promise to return to it again. For all its fluency, Bassani’s invention is rarely distinctive. His melodies tend to rely on predictable sequences, and his harmonic imagination is severely limited by comparison with contemporaries like Alessandro Scarlatti. Few complaints about the performance. Except for an uncomfortable-sounding contralto, the light-voiced soloists make a stylish, personable bunch, while Jean Tubéry keeps the rhythms and phrasing alive and despatches the fiendishly difficult cornett part with panache. Richard Wigmore