Maria & Maddalena
Oratorios by Bononcini, Caldara, A Draghi, Handel, Lulier, Perti and A Scarlatti
Francesca Aspromonte (soprano); I Barocchisti/Diego Fasolis
Pentatone PTC 5186 867 62:09 mins
This unusual programme interlaces extracts from Italian Baroque oratorios in order to contrast the voices and the vacillating emotions of the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene. Among several rarities and newly-edited works are a Christmas oratorio by the Roman composer Giovanni Lorenzo Lulier, which soprano Francesca Aspromonte and Swiss period-instrument ensemble I Barocchisti inject with fervent immediacy, and an aria by the music-loving Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I, realised with apt gravitas here. We’re also treated to arias from two Passion oratorios by Giacomo Antonio Perti: in ‘Del Nazareno non era in seno’, Boris Begelman’s graceful violin arabesques swirl like incense around the voice, while in ‘Del campo il bel fiore’ the players offset stark unison passages with lush full textures to thrilling effect.
Other highlights are Caldara’s poignant aria ‘Pompe inutili’ – Aspromonte and cellist Mario Valli conversing in an exquisite dialogue – and Alessandro Scarlatti’s beguiling ‘Stesa a pie’ del tronco amaro’ whose imploring vocal line flows like tears over throbbing strings. Though it’s a pity to carve these oratorios into bleeding chunks, the programme nonetheless manages to build a compelling discourse between the two Marys.
Aspromonte’s voluptuous, velvety soprano and vivid diction capture the emotional and rhetorical tensions of works that veer from grief to joy; my one caveat is that her colour palette and dynamic shading lack a little variety. She’s superbly partnered by I Barocchisti who, under Diego Fasolis, point up the affects that heighten these musical expressions of human and divine love.