Salieri: La passione di nostro signore Gesu Cristo

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LABELS: Capriccio
WORKS: La passione di nostro signore Gesu Cristo
PERFORMER: Melba Ramos (soprano), Franziska Gottwald (contralto), Florian Mock (tenor), Hanno Müller-Brachmann (bass); Chorus Musicus Köln, Das Neue Orchester/Christoph Spering
In her Salieri album, Cecilia Bartoli (Decca, reviewed December 2003) set out to rehabilitate the hugely successful Viennese court composer cruelly lambasted in Amadeus by a manically giggling Mozart. Now the ever-enterprising Christoph Spering has unearthed Salieri’s 1776 setting of Metastasio’s once-famous passion poem, which eschews biblical narrative and dramatic conflict for a series of reflections – tormented, sentimental or serene – on the meaning of Christ’s suffering. By the 1770s boundaries between sacred and secular were distinctly blurred. There is a nod to ecclesiastical propriety in the fugal choruses that end each part. But in structure and idiom Salieri’s setting is essentially a static opera seria, built on the alternation of (mainly) orchestrally accompanied recitative and arias for the four protagonists (Mary Magdalene, John, Peter and Joseph of Arimathea). Though one or two numbers sound elegantly non-committal, the music is carefully composed, colourfully scored and often melodically appealing. Highlights include a clutch of arias in agitated Sturm und Drang vein, a chaste, Gluckian cavatina for Mary (shades here of ‘Che farò’), John’s exquisitely tender ‘Dovunque il guardo io giro’ and Mary’s coloratura showpiece ‘Ai passi erranti’. Spering directs an alert, spirited account of this devotional opera, phrasing stylishly and keeping the rhythms eager and springy (and with so many repeated-note accompaniments they could easily chug). Of the soloists, tenor Florian Mock, as Peter, is sweet-toned, if too placid in his self-lacerating expressions of remorse. But soprano Melba Ramos is both brilliant and delicate in ‘Ai passi erranti’, while Hanno Müller-Brachmann’s incisive singing of Joseph’s vision of doom ‘All’ idea de’ tuoi perigli’ is a high point of the whole performance. Richard Wigmore