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Fanfare Magazine: 39:5 (05-06/2016) 
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Reviewer: Bertil van Boer


Alessandro Stradella is one of those important figures who was a bad boy during his lifetime, though a rather controversial life is glossed over in the booklet notes of this disc. Associated with the court of the notorious Swedish Queen Christina in Rome during his youth, he managed to combine a violent temper, expert swordsmanship, a taste for seduction of the fairer sex, and musical genius into one package. His tempestuous life ended with his being set upon masked assassins in Genoa in 1682. Rumor had it that the hit was either ordered by the Lomellini patriarch, who may have been involved with the slave trade, or the Genoese police chief in retaliation for the seduction of the female members of his family. Both may or may not be true, but Stradella’s murder has never been solved. In any case, whatever his own personal foibles, he also had a reputation as a composer of opera and oratorio, the latter often produced at the Oratory of Santa Crocifice in Rome. This work is one of six or seven produced during his Roman time, but the exact date is not entirely clear. To my knowledge, this may be the first recording of this particular oratorio.

The work, which may well have been staged, involves the conflict between the Archbishop of Constantinople, Johannes Chrysostomos, and the Empress Eudoxia, who had him run out of town with the help of the Patriarch of Alexandria, Theophilus. The entire work pits both Archbishop and Empress against each other, with Theophilus offering advice, and at the end Eudoxia is consigned after her death to the torments of hell while the hapless Archbishop, now in farthest Armenia, continues to live (through reports of a narrator) a life of purity and will be redeemed. Hardly the stuff of immortal legend, but interesting enough for some rather dramatic moments. Stradella, however, chose to be sparing in his instrumental accompaniment, choosing only a continuo group to support the singers. Here, the Mare Nostrum ensemble has enlarged it to a substantial size, with the organ supplemented by gambas, a cello, a harpsichord, and various plucked instruments (the inevitable theorbo, an archlute, and a harp copied from an Italian picture from the period). This gives the work a sparse but often rich foundation against which the story unfolds.

The work is a bit sprawling, though it follows the conventional format of arias interspersed by recitative. The opening duet for a couple of advisors (consiglieri) is sprightly, with both voices weaving in and about each other in an arabesque. The next trio (courtiers of Eudoxia) sings her praises with a dance motion, each voice turning about the other both in trio and individually with some rather simple counterpoint. The image of a sybaritic court is revealed in the jaunty themes. The only chorus, also in the first part, is a hymn that unravels as the voices begin to imitate each other in brief confusion. Virtuosity is reflected mainly in the arias. For example, Eudoxia’s rage aria (in a major key), comparing herself to a viper, twirls about the line sinuously in a rapid series of melismas. This gives the impression that one really ought not to mess with her. Crisostomo’s reply, that she needs to recognize the truth, is more patriarchal in tone, descending down into the lower registers like the voice of power. Theophilus, on the other hand, seems quite conventional, lacking the drama and emotion of either principal. His aria “Qual vago candore” is simple and uncomplicated, with just the barest hint of coloratura. A trio of her courtiers towards the end admonishes Eudoxia in a dance inspired ensemble with its deliberate notes that sounds menacing, though still in a major key.

The continuo group really holds the entire work together, giving it rhythmic and foundational vitality. The use of contrasting instruments provides variety, but what is interesting is that it functions as a solid continuum, whatever instruments appear in succession. Arianna Vedittelli’s soprano is clear and spot on pitch. She handles the occasional coloratura with ease and nice phrasing. Matteo Bellotto’s bass is a good foil, deep and resonant. Luca Cervoni has a lighter tenor, which allows him to delineate the rather equivocal role of Theophilus with ease. In short, this is a fine recording and one that demonstrates Stradella’s ability for creating a smooth, integral, and quite tuneful work. Recommended.

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