A Scarlatti: Cain overo Il primo omicidio

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COMPOSERS: A Scarlatti
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Cain overo Il primo omicidio
PERFORMER: Bernarda Fink (alto), Graciela Oddone, Dorothea Röschmann (soprano), Richard Croft (tenor), René Jacobs (countertenor), Antonio Abete (bass); Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin/René Jacobs
The many people who delighted in René Jacobs’s superb 1996 recording of Caldara’s Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo will surely welcome this new release. Il primo omicidio, like Maddalena, is a religious oratorio composed in Venice in the early 1700s and Scarlatti, like Caldara, gives voice to opposing moral counsels in a series of beguiling solo arias. But whereas Maddalena dramatised interior dialogues within the soul, Il primo omicidio narrates Cain’s murder of Abel by means of characters (Cain, Abel, Adam, Eve) and external voices (God, Lucifer). Scarlatti’s delineation of character is pithy and skilful – Abel’s music is innocent pastoral, Cain’s smoulders with resentment – and, in an innovative touch, he heralds each supernatural intervention with striking instrumental outbursts.


Bernarda Fink impresses as a mean, moody Cain later touched by pathos in the remorseful ‘Miei genitori addio’, but it’s Dorothea Röschmann’s Eve who’s given the work’s most haunting arias – ‘Caro sposo’, ‘Sommo dio’, ‘Madre tenera’ – which she sings with beautiful poignancy. There is a competitive rival version: Fabio Biondi’s 1992 recording for Opus 111 is pacy and well-sung, but the Jacobs team – using a slightly larger instrumental ensemble – wins through with the more polished, characterful performance. Graham Lock