'Maria, Madre di Dio'

Early-music.com EMCCD-7757
1 CD
full price
Recorded in 2003.
Released in 2003.

-Ah! che troppo ineguali or O del ciel! Maria regina (HWV 230)
-Il pianto di Maria or Giunta l'ora fatal (HWV 234)*

*Misattributed to Handel; composed by Giovanni Battista Ferrandini (1710-91).

Also includes:

  • Antonio VIVALDI: Stabat Mater (RV 621)
  • Alessandro SCARLATTI: Salve Regina for 2 voices in F minor

Agnès Mellon, soprano
Matthew White, countertenor

ARION (on period instruments)
Director: Monica Huggett

This anthology is devoted to baroque vocal works that describe Mary, the Mother of God. The poem Stabat mater is the best-known such tribute to the Holy Mother, and of course Vivaldi’s popular composition is only one setting among those of many fine composers. There are many recordings of it already, but the talented Matthew White and the exceptional Arion are spontaneous enough to defy over-familiarity. However, I was impressed most by Alessandro Scarlatti’s Salve Regina (one of his five extant settings of this text), which further deepens my respect and affection for this fine composer. 

Until recently the dynamic sacred cantata Il pianto di Maria was attributed to Handel, and it even has an HWV number devoted to it. But a group of musicologists, including our beloved friend and occasional contributor Carlo Vitali, established that it was composed by Giovanni Battista Ferrandini. This little-known composer was born and trained in Venice, but seems to have spent most of his career in Munich, where he probably composed Il pianto di Maria in or around 1735. Our knowledge of the true origin of the music has not prevented this from becoming the second fine recording to be made and released with Handel’s name still attached to it (although both recordings feature an honest programme note clearly correcting the misattribution). I can’t condemn the record labels for this: Handel sells, and Ferrandini doesn’t. 

The music is what matters most, and this is a distinguished work that contains melancholy, theatre, and intense musical contrasts. In fact, one can easily understand why it was misattributed to Handel in the first place. Agnès Mellon and Arion are particularly outstanding in this cantata, despite the previous recording by Anne Sofie von Otter retaining its abrasive flamboyant appeal. There is also some authentic Handel music included that is first-rate but seldom heard. The cantata ‘Ah! che troppo ineguali’ implores the Queen of Heaven to restore peace to earth. It was a common subject for sacred cantatas, and is perhaps most familiar to us in Vivaldi’s ‘Nulla in mundo pax sincera’. Handel composed his cantata for Cardinal Colonna in 1708, during his brilliant youthful career in Italy. Handel’s music composed during this period never ceases to amaze me, and this cantata is typically inspired in its superb ritornello and vocal richness. Agnès Mellon and Arion are again outstanding, and provide an alternative to Otter and Goebel that is equally fine but far more lyrical and balanced. 

Much of the credit for this must go to Monica Huggett, who directs Arion to play brilliantly, emotionally, and with impeccable style. Recordings of these ‘Handel’ works are few and far between, so this early-music.com release is of obvious interest to collectors. But, far more importantly, this is an exceptionally fine recital of baroque sacred vocal music that deserves all the recognition it can get. Judging from this initial impression, the recently established Early-music.com could become a rewarding and respected influence in the baroque music recording business, but they will need to secure the publicity its artists deserve.

"Marian Cantatas & Arias" with mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, Musica Antiqua Köln, and director Reinhard Goebel on DG/Archiv 439 866-2 (1994).

© David Vickers - February 2004

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