WORKS: La stravaganza
PERFORMER: La Venexiana
CATALOGUE NO: 111 OPS 30-149
This well-constructed programme of duets and solo cantatas displays the wayward imagination of a gifted and highly trained dilettante in early 18th-century Venice – Benedetto Marcello was lawyer, diplomat, poet, satirist and composer. The texts tell of false and unrequited love; the music varies from attractive predictability to remarkable invention and surprise. Some is unheard – a vocal line in E flat, the continuo in D sharp. Some is capricious – half an aria in 5/4 time. Marcello’s vivid pictorialism includes some amazingly mercurial harmony evoked by an outburst of abject despair (‘Onda d’amaro pianto’). Striking too is the dazzling vocal virtuosity generated by ‘whirlpools’ and the simile of a boat tossing on the darkened sea. Soprano and countertenor are distinctive yet finely matched, the accompanying continuo forces apt and colourful.
The centrepiece is a powerful scena of Lucrezia’s suicide, a text set also by Handel. The violent language evokes a violently angular line with a dramatic harmonic interruption at the end as she plunges the knife into her heart. Marcello should, and needs, no longer to be (New Grove) ‘more famous than appreciated’. George Pratt