Music Review: High Baroque Passion

Domenico Scarlatti:
Stabat Mater and Other Works
Le Caravansérail,
Harmonia Mundi, $14.99

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Review by Christopher Hoh

French ensemble Le Caravansérail has recorded assorted works of Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757). His High Baroque “Stabat Mater in C Minor” constitutes the album’s main course. Elaborately scored for 10 voices, it nonetheless looks back to earlier styles with straightforward basso continuo accompaniment.

Here director Bertrand Cuiller leads one-to-a-part singers through an impassioned, lively account. With a full-throated, almost operatic presentation, this interpretation may not suit listeners accustomed to a more restrained, “churchy” approach. But the subject — Christ’s Passion and his mother’s reaction — certainly lends itself to emotion.

Throughout, the various combinations of voices remain well-balanced, taking turns center stage rather than blending homogeneously. I would have preferred some quiet, contemplative contrast, but in fairness, Scarlatti provided few such spots in the bouncy score.

The “Inflammatus” section with three extra-florid lines for sopranos and a tenor constitutes a high point (sadly uncredited). Generally, however, at least four voices sing at a time, and often double that or more. It makes for a busy sound, especially with relatively close miking, but Cuiller and company keep it cohesive and crisp.

Elsewhere we hear diverse instrumental and vocal works. A gentle “Cantabile,” beautifully played by harpist Bérengère Sardin, opens the album. Cuiller’s instrumental ensemble sounds terrific — incisive and expressive — in a sonata and other movements as well as an infectious homage to Scarlatti by Charles Alison.

Opera excerpts feature soprano Emmanuelle de Negri, with additional solo turns by countertenor Paul-Antoine Bénos-Dijan. The secular solo cantata “Pur Nel Sonno Almen Tal’ora” laments unrequited love. De Negri convinces with tender phrasing and fiery declamation, only occasionally marred by heavy high notes. While a mishmash, this music is all rich and nicely done. Domenico Scarlatti fans should be pleased.

Christopher Hoh is a composer/publisher and artistic consultant based in Arlington, Virginia. He is also a retired U.S. career diplomat and lifelong musician and concertgoer.


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