Scarlatti: Infirmata, vulnerata; De tenebroso lacu; Totus amore languens

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Scarlatti
LABELS: Virgin Veritas
WORKS: Infirmata, vulnerata; De tenebroso lacu; Totus amore languens
PERFORMER: Gérard Lesne (alto), Véronique Gens (soprano); Il Seminario Musicale
CATALOGUE NO: VC 5 45103 2 DDD
Scarlatti’s immense output included nearly 100 motets, 600 cantatas and dozens of operas, yet only a handful of pieces have been recorded. The loss is ours. These four motets, for instance, contain a distinctive mix of restraint – Scarlatti resisting the descriptive possibilities of exotic, often sensual texts – and an occasional show of splendid vocal virtuosity at such an irresistible moment as ‘run, fly, quickly’. There are, too, instances of striking ingenuity – a ground bass three-and-a-half bars long, yet bound to four-bar phrases, in Infirmata, vulnerata.

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Lesne’s alto has a characteristic and engaging sound, and his virtuoso agility is assured. Sustained lines flow less easily, disturbed at times by a mannered bulge on each note. A Salve regina setting provides a refreshing contrast of texture. Véronique Gens joins Lesne as a beautifully-matched duet partner. Some of the descriptive music here is inspired – despairing sobs of ‘moaning and weeping in this valley of tears’ are heart-rending.

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Recorded sound is rather brittle, compounded when the two solo violins of Il Seminario Musicale are in unison. Scarlatti’s Roman churches might have supported more generous forces. Nevertheless, this is a fascinating glimpse of a rich repertoire which eminently deserves to be revealed. George Pratt