Conversazioni II: Duelling Cantatas
Avie Records (AV2296)
Works by Alessandro Scarlatti, Antonio Caldara, Domenico Scarlatti, Francesco Gasparini and George Frideric Handel.
The second in a series exploring the wealth of vocal and instrumental music presented at the artistic gatherings of 18th century Rome’s Arcadian Academy. Soprano Anna Dennis and countertenor Andrew Radley engage in a vocal contest of style and beauty while period instrumentalists Sounds Baroque breathe vibrant life into spirited scores by Caldara and Domenico Scarlatti.
Available on Amazon
"The Sunday gatherings, or conversazioni, of 18th-century Rome’s Arcadian Academy spawned a vast amount of purpose-built music. Here are three secular cantatas (Scarlatti, Gasparini and Handel), each exploring not so much rivalrous duelling as dialogue. Singularly characterful works, they are delivered with stylish aplomb by the soprano Anna Dennis and the countertenor Andrew Radley."
The Sunday Times
"This is a lovely disc, ingeniously programmed and lovingly performed by some outstanding musicians. The booklet essays are superb, while the recording is a model of clarity and warmth. As such it makes an ideal tribute to the late Noelle Barker, whose death, following the release of the first 'Conversazioni', clearly robbed these players of a wonderful guiding light; 'a formidable teacher and a refreshingly honest friend', as the printed tribute puts it."
International Record Review
"This is a winner - picture yourself, in October 1708, in the sumptuous surroundings of Rome's Palazzo Bonelli, along with one's fellow Arcadian Academicians, the guests of Marquis Francesco Maria Ruspoli. A civilised entertainment of pastoral cantatas and instrumental pieces by ''Terpandro Politeo'' (Alessandro Scarlatti), his son, Domenico and their colleagues Gasparini and Caldara is galvanised by the appearance of ''Il Caro Sassone'', the brilliant young Handel, showing off his keyboard virtuosity and his startlingly dramatic vocal writing.
Sounds Baroque have put together a fine programme. The Gasparini cantata has a ravishing pastoral duet at its heart, with pifferarian drone-effects; Caldara's trio sonata is elegantly and elegiacally contrapuntal, while Alessandro Scarlatti's cantata a due has characteristically smooth and subtle word-setting - note the beautifully-handled ''dying'' close. The well-known keyboard contest between the younger Scarlatti and his exact contemporary Handel is convincingly reconstructed (a first appearance on disc?) with a pair of sonatas apiece. It is, however, Handel's extended dramatic scena that crowns the proceedings, with the hectic chase of its overture, precipitately interrupted, and completed with a suave major-key minuet; this latter returns neatly at the end, but in the minor key, and with the participants singing in strict (for Handel) canon, symbolising their continuing separation. In between are four contrasting arias; Daliso's lovely E vanita d'un cor is particularly haunting. These performances are wholly alluring; I especially enjoyed Anna Dennis's hard-to-get Amarilli. The continuo team are spot on, both supportive and stimulating, under Julian Perkins's expert direction. David Vickers's scholarly sleevenotes admirably complete a splendid recording.''
Early Music Review
‘As for the performance, the disc is excellent, fully the equal of its predecessor. Countertenor Andrew Radley has a nice, dark, rich voice, which pairs nicely with the smooth and clear soprano of Anna Dennis. The accompaniment is well done, as well, never obscuring the vocal lines. …it is an excellent complement to the first of these musical conversations, and certainly belongs in any Arcadian collection.’
"Sounds Baroque follow their debut album (10/11) with another engaging snapshot of the Arcadian Academy's Sunday afternoon 'conversations', magnets for the Roman intellectual elite held in the sumptuous palazzi of Marquis (later Prince) Ruspoli, Cardinal Ottoboni et al. The programme unfolds as a series of musical duels, bookended by substantial cantatas by Francesco Gasparini and Handel, and taking in a fine trio sonata by Caldara and the keyboard works that perhaps featured in the famous Roman gladiatorial contest between Handel and Domenico Scarlatti.
In Gasparini's attractive Io che dal terzo ciel, Anna Dennis, pure and limpid of tone, and the pleasing countertenor of Andrew Radley sigh and coo beguilingly as Venus and Adonis. The musette duet 'La pastorella ove il boschetto ombreggia', where the ever-lively continuo group evokes bucolic tambourines, is especially delightful. Their voices combine eloquently in the grieving suspensions of Scarlatti's Questo silenzio ombroso…
...in the Caldara the solo violins entwine soulfully and spar exuberantly by turns. As ever, Avie's presentation is first-rate, with full texts and translations, and informative essays by David Vickers and Perkins himself."
"Soprano Anna Dennis as Amarillis then bursts in with beautiful, bright, smiling tone, springy runs and bags of stamina. With a voice of such colour, she hardly needs to act... The band, Sounds Baroque, does exactly that exquisitely."
Words and Music
Conversazioni I: Cantatas from a Cardinal's Court
Avie Records (AV2197)
Works by Albinoni, Caldara, Handel, and Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti.
First in a series exploring the wealth of music that may have been conceived for artistic gatherings (conversazioni) in Rome at the turn of the 18th century.
Available on Amazon
"Countertenor Andrew Radley is both swoonsome and stately, depending on the material: the somewhat melancholy progress of Albinoni's Senza il core del mio bene, for instance, befitting a love plaint of such wretched torment, while a more playful involvement suits Handel's Vedendo Amor, with its tortuous tale of mythic enslavement by Cupid."
"In short, this is a perfect conversation starter (pun intended), and if one wishes to know how Ottoboni’s soirées proceeded, you could not do better. The performances are all well interpreted and musical, the recording sound appropriately intimate, and the choice of works nicely balanced. If you have an interest in these cantatas, with their lyrical poetic texts and attempts to bring out the affections musically, you will find this an excellent disc."
"Andrew Radley's career has developed fast since he left the Royal Academy of Music in 2004. There's a seductive tonal warmth (sometimes too seductive) to his voice. The countertenor does let loose the cutting edge necessary to project the dramatic angst of Handel's Mi palpita il cor ('My heart throbs'). He also interacts as a fully engaged chamber musician with Sounds Baroque and its impressive director and harpsichordist Julian Perkins. It's heartening to discover yet another group of young musicians, fuelled by intellectual curiosity and a corporate commitment to excellence, with enterprise and genuine flair. Roll on Conversazioni II."
"This cleverly constructed programme is based around the very grand Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni (1667-1740), whose Roman court was a centre for music-making, poetry and all the visual arts. He was a practitioner as well as a patron, writing librettos for operas and cantatas for composers such as Alessandro Scarlatti. Ottoboni collected artworks and promising composers with equal avarice and lived well beyond his very considerable means. His tastes in other directions were also far from ascetic: the booklet notes for this disc tell us that he was reported to have sired over 60 children and to have decorated his bedroom with paintings of his mistresses posing as saints...
The programme is a refreshing mix of chamber cantatas and solo keyboard works. It is instructive to hear harpsichord pieces of Domenico Scarlatti and Handel alongside each other in light of their mutual respect and even some stylistic influence on each other. I also find Scarlatti sonatas easier to absorb when heard in small doses rather than en bloc, as is usually the case. Harpsichordist Julian Perkins is a very congenial performer who conveys an air of effortless virtuosity to this handful of well-chosen works. He plays two rich but contrasting instruments, which are both modern copies of Italian instruments: one from around 1600 and the other after Grimaldi c.1700.
Handel's cantatas owed a great deal to Domenico's (hated) father Alessandro, as do those of his contemporaries Albinoni and Caldara. So again, it is clever programming to hear similar works on similar themes by each of these composers. The Sounds Baroque ensemble, which Perkins directs, takes some small liberties with the scoring in one or two works, to suit its make-up of flute, oboe, cello, lute and harpsichord. These, admirably, are acknowledged in the notes and are probably consistent with the liberty contemporary performers would have allowed themselves. All the cantatas are fine examples of the Arcadian style, in which the loves and losses of shepherds and shepherdesses are depicted with graceful - sometimes slightly ironic - charm and ingratiating melodies... Perkins again shows great quality here and he is very ably partnered by lutenist Andrew Maginley and cellist Jonathan Byers (who soars in Handel's continuo-only Vedendo Amor).
The 'pastoral' qualities of the Baroque oboe and transverse flute are well suited here and the various composers often give them delicious melodies and harmonies. Oboist Joel Raymond plays an instrument he made himself modelled on a Thomas Stanesby instrument from around 1720. It has a wonderfully warm tone and Raymond's sensitive phrasing and gift for apt ornamentation are very impressive... The two woodwinds blend beautifully in Caldara's Clori, mia bella Clori...
Of course, a CD consisting largely of solo cantatas will stand or fall by the quality of the soloist. Happily, English countertenor Andrew Radley is a fine singer and vocal dramatist. ...he uses it [the voice] with great intelligence and stylistic awareness, including some really delightful embellishment... ...I was very impressed with him and indeed with the whole ensemble. I look forward eagerly eagerly to the promised 'Conversazioni II'.''
International Record Review
"... beautifully illustrated... "
"Handel's Vedendo amor does have a clear Italian-period provenance; Andrew Radley demonstrates tender story-telling skills during the soft Camminando lei pian piano. The majority of cantatas are accompanied elegantly by only a basso continuo trio but Caldara's Clori, mia bella Clori also has flute and oboe – an attractive mixture of timbres, even if I imagine that their parts may have been envisaged for two violins. In gentle arias Radley's singing has affectionate intimacy and delicacy (such as Caldara's lovely last aria, Parto mio ben costante). I look forward to Volume 2. "
"Andrew Radley's warm, nimble countertenor invariably crafts a shapely vocal line... With delightfully expressive woodwind 'conversations' topping and tailing the disc, classy continuo, and deftly imaginative programming, Sounds Baroque proves a stylish ornament to the most discerning Cardinal's Court. Roll on Conversazioni Vol. 2!"
BBC Music Magazine
''The debut CD from Sounds Baroque, this disc is a selection of music from the fabled Conversazioni held in Rome by Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, who used his power and wealth to act as one of the greatest patrons of his age. Counter-tenor Andrew Radley, for whom this is also a first recording, is superb. While the cantatas on this disc tend to wallow in lovesickness, Radley finds a myriad of different colours and vocal moods, playing swooning and discarded as well as he does springing and agitated. But this is an excellent all-round performance from Sounds Baroque: there are some lovely obbligati from oboist Joel Raymond and flautist Georgia Browne, and Julian Perkins contributes a number of expertly gauged keyboard works by Handel and Domenico Scarlatti, a nod to their famous duel.''
Early Music Today / Classical Music
Performer's Perspective: countertenor Andrew Radley reminisces about the making of Sounds Baroque’s debut disc, Conversazioni I.
When Julian and I discussed the prospect of recording this disc I was naturally very excited. Rome in the late 17th and early 18th centuries must have been the most incredible place to be a musician; a magnet for all those at the top of their artistic fields whether it was music, art, sculpture, theatre design or architecture. Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni was just one of several influential patrons of the time, and reading through a list of composers and musicians who worked for him is to find a Who's Who of the musical world at the time.
It is always a pleasure to trawl through the catalogues of libraries looking for interesting music, and Julian and I have spent many a happy hour in the British Library doing just that. It may be conjecture that many of the pieces we've chosen were performed at an Ottoboni conversazione, but they are certainly representative of the many shifting stylistic trends in the composition of cantatas at this time. Some of the works chosen are better known than others (both Handel cantatas have been recorded several times), but all are testament to the incredible musical goings-on of those composers who worked in or passed through Rome.
Why make a recording? Useful as it is in terms of projecting one's work and one's name a little further afield while making a musical contribution to posterity, the joy of making this disc was primarily in getting to spend time with the music and my fellow musicians. As an opera singer, the "band" is so often on the other side of the footlights; met once or twice at a Sitzprobe before disappearing into the pit for stage rehearsals. To be able to see and hear my friends clearly and for us to respond to each other without distance or distraction from wandering wigs, creaky costumes and cumbersome sets, was a rare treat. In short we were able to concentrate entirely on the music.
Exploring, rehearsing and performing this programme has been a pleasure from beginning to end. Listening to the disc now and hearing the excellent job our sound engineer, Adrian Hunter, has done in capturing the special acoustics of our recording venue, I'm instantly taken back to the surroundings of Lutyens's church of St Jude's, Hampstead. I can clearly see the muted half-light and feel the somewhat subdued temperature of those December afternoons and evenings, and remember the joy of recording some great music with some great friends.