Feo San Francesco di Sales
Monica Piccinini, Roberta Mameli (soprano), Delphine Galou (alto), Luca Tittoto (bass); Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra/Fabio Biondi
Glossa GCD923409 137:52 mins (2 discs)
Now a name familiar only to Baroque specialists, in his day Francesco Feo (1691-1761) was a much admired composer, described by the 18th-century music historian Charles Burney as ‘one of the greatest Neapolitan masters of his time’. He was born and died in the city of Naples, where he studied and later taught, and many of his works were first heard there, though the oratorio recorded here was premiered in Bologna in 1734; it would receive many more performances over the next 20 years or so. Its subject was the relatively recent St Francis of Sales (1567- 1622), celebrated in the anonymous libretto for returning numerous Calvinists in the Chablais region (now split between France and Switzerland) to the Catholic fold. The piece requires just four soloists, who also supply the chorus at the end of each half. Feo’s score is not a masterpiece on the level of Bach and Handel – to whom the composer and critic Reichardt compared him at the end of the 18th century – but it is a work of skill and some imagination, especially in terms of the orchestral writing. Its often ornate da capo arias require fine voices and strong vocal techniques and are largely granted them here in a performance directed with authority by Fabio Biondi, in charge of the immaculate Stuttgart Kammerorchester. St Francis is strongly characterised by alto Delphine Galou, his companion the Angel more tentatively by soprano Monica Piccinini, and his opponents Heresy and Deceit impressively by soprano Roberta Mameli and bass Luca Tittoto respectively.