Caldara: In Dolce Amore

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Caldara
LABELS: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Caldara: In Dolce Amore
WORKS: Opera arias from Scipione nelle Spagne, Scipione Africano, Adriano in Siria, Demofoonte, Temistocle, and I disingannati; Cantatas: Credea Niso; Begl’occhi adorato; Rotte l’aspre catene
PERFORMER: Robin Johannsen (soprano); Academia Montis Regalis/Alessandro De Marchi

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This daring programme gives us not just world premiere recordings, but a deep grasp of Baroque Italian composer Antonio Caldara’s artistry. We hear how the composer commanded grandeur as well as intimacy, freely mixing idioms from cantata, concerto and opera. The performance is nearly as good. Soprano Robin Johannsen ignites Caldara’s music, bringing out its seductive charms through her youth, confidence, and luminous voice. Her extemporisations, especially her leaps up to her top register, are precocious. Conductor Alessandro De Marchi gives Johannsen the space she needs, drawing out caesuras to let her maximise the impact of individual words. Crisp and delicate, his conducting captures the essence of Caldara’s rococo taste.

De Marchi occasionally misses cues that Caldara wrote into his music, most notably in the cantata Credea Niso. In the score, Caldara plunges from the overture’s disciplined French dance forms into the emotional licence of a lover’s arioso. We don’t hear this lurch between forms, partly because De Marchi rarely ventures into super-soft dynamics. And while impressive vocally, Johannsen struggles to characterise Caldara’s varied protagonists: shepherdess, heroine, comic servant. In slower movements she misses chances to create intimacy, for instance by using straight tone or swells on sustained notes.

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These faults are easily outweighed by the disc’s merits, however. We hear masterpieces for the first time, splendidly arrayed. Berta Joncus