A Scarlatti: Magnificat; Dixit dominus; Madrigali

COMPOSERS: A Scarlatti
LABELS: NAIVE
ALBUM TITLE: A Scarlatti
WORKS: Magnificat; Dixit dominus; Madrigali
PERFORMER: Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini
CATALOGUE NO: OP 30350
With over 60 operas and 600 cantatas to his name, it’s no surprise that Alessandro Scarlatti has been dubbed ‘the founder of Neapolitan opera’. His sacred music, too, is steeped in the modern style, spectacularly displayed in Nicholas McGegan’s recent Cecilian Vespers SACD (Avie 0048). But also hidden within Scarlatti’s work-list is a little collection of pieces, sacred and secular, which reveal him to be as fluent in old-fashioned polyphony as in mid-Baroque solo virtuosity. Dixit Dominus is the more retrospective of the sacred pieces featured here, its finely crafted counterpoint ranging from long-spun lines worthy of Palestrina to tersely-wrought lively ideas – the ‘Amen’, for example, is a whirl of fragmented motifs. The Magnificat is more modern though still with only continuo organ and chitarrone, no obbligato instruments. At one extreme, solo soprano engages in vivid coloratura above continuo; in the Gloria and final Amen Scarlatti displays his prowess in a double fugue, though in a spirit which belies any earnest learnedness.

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But most startling are the madrigals, recalling Monteverdi before he re-defined the genre in his Book V, and spiced by Gesualdo’s harmonic quirks. Scarlatti leaps at every opportunity to write descriptively – ‘flame’, ‘laugh’, ‘ice’, ‘ashes’ all invite vivid word-painting.

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The recording is occasionally overly close and assertive in a dry studio acoustic. Listening at a lower volume level than normal helped – and at their quietest, the ensemble is pure magic. George Pratt