Porpora: Cantatas Nos 7-12

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Cantatas Nos 7-12: Veggo la selva e il monte; Or che una nube ingrata; Destatevi, o pastori; Oh se fosse il mio core; Oh Dio, che non è vero; Dal povero mio cor
PERFORMER: Iestyn Davies (countertenor); Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen

When music lovers come across the name Nicola Porpora (1686-1768), it is usually in a negative context: he typically features in Handel biographies as an inferior rival. Yet Porpora, a celebrated singing teacher, was highly esteemed by the connoisseurs of his day – including Prince Frederick, to whom these cantatas are dedicated – for his ability to collaborate with performers. Porpora’s works require musicians not only to extemporise, but also to act; his cantatas, in particular, were designed to capture the nobility and delicacy of the Arcadian utopia that his audiences loved to dream about.  It’s a world far removed from ours today, and a sensibility that can be hard to inhabit.
This premiere recording of his 1735 cantatas gloriously recreates Porpora’s own aural and dramatic contexts. Making his solo debut on the Hyperion label, countertenor Iestyn Davies hovers delicately between passion and languor, enactment and commentary. Hesitation, silence and nuanced additions figure prominently in a performance that is both engaging and soothing. Davies performs in dialogue with obbligato and continuo, whose unflagging inventiveness enriches Porpora’s deftly etched melodies and bass lines. The recitative is notably captivating, thanks largely to the obbligato players’ response to words, and to director and cellist Jonathan Cohen’s fine-brush dynamics.
Technically immaculate and thoroughly researched, the production value of this disc meets Hyperion’s usual high standards. At last we can hear why period cognoscenti sometimes preferred Porpora to Handel, who could seem more interested in controlling his performers than in granting them space to unfold their artistry.
Berta Joncus