Alessandro Scarlatti: Passio Secundum Johannem
Chœur de Chambre de Namur, Millenium Orchestra, Leonardo García Alarcón
Ricercar RJC 378. 57’30
If you can listen to the first two tracks of this recording without being smitten by the extraordinary musical and emotional power, you are probably on a different musical planet to me. The richly sonorous and harmonically intense opening chorus (a Responsory for Holy Week) segues straight into the opening section of the Passio Secundum Johannem. The orchestral introduction is a glorious harmonic construction, leading to the evocative voice of mezzo-soprano Giuseppina Bridelli, singing the role of Testo (the Evanglelist).
Alessandro Scarlatti’s Passio Secundum Johannem was the first setting of a Passion in 17th century Italy. The role of the Evangelist dominates the entire work. Scarlatti lifts Testo from mere story telling with a narrative full of emotional intensity. In that role, Giuseppina Bridelli’s (pictured) beautiful rich timbre combines with an impressively stable voice and spot-on intonation. Her very subtle vibrato is only used as an occasional ornament, for example to colour a long-held note.
Caroline Weynants enters into the spirit of Scarlatti’s wonderful joyful accompaniment in her delightful brief interjection as Ancilla questioning Peter. Scarlatti adopts a similar bouncy mood to the later chorus addressed to Peter ‘Are you not also one of his disciples’. The rather strained high tenor of Peter was the only voice that I was not entirely happy with. Otherwise the solo and chorus singing is universally excellent. Scarlatti’s use of orchestra colour is fascinating, as his the wide range of his musical and harmonic invention. The Voice of Christ (bass Salvo Vitale) is haloed by a string accompaniment. Testo is usually accompanied by continuo only, apart from the opening and closing sections.
On this recording, Leonardo García Alarcón has inserted sections from Scarlatti’s Holy Week polyphonic Responsori per la Settimana Santa. These alternate with, and segued into the Passio, so to hear the latter uninterrupted, you will need to skip alternate tracks.
More information and a link to the programme notes (which explore possible dates of composition) can be found here.