New beginning for Vitale’s cantata series on his own label
Contrasto Armonico recorded four volumes of an aborted complete Handel cantata series for Brilliant Classics but here Marco Vitale launches his own label, Ayros, with a clean slate, while continuing to explore the reasonably well-known cantate con stromenti alongside the obscure smaller-scale solo cantatas accompanied by only basso continuo – many of which have never been recorded before.
The dramatic Armida abbandonata needs little introduction to ardent Handelians but this anthology contains premiere recordings of continuo cantatas Qualor l’egre pupille and Ne’ tuoi lumi, o bella Clori that were also written in 1707 for Durastanti to sing at Sunday afternoon conversazioni hosted by Handel’s Roman patron the Marchese Ruspoli. The odd one out is Notte placida e cheta, the exact origin of which is unknown: Roberta Mameli subtly conjures the atmosphere of placid night in the opening recitative, and ‘Zeffiretti, deh! venite’ is a blissfully shaded dialogue between her
exquisite murmurs and violinists Stefan Plewniak and Enrique Gómez-Cabrero Fernádez. Mameli’s soft singing seductively conveys a lover’s infatuation with Clori’s beautiful eyes in Ne’ tuoi lumi, o bella Clori; Vitale and cellist Marta Semkiw provide discreet yet eloquent continuo; and Ellen Harris’s essay rightly lauds it ‘one of those extraordinary masterpieces that one can hardly believe has lain dormant for so long’.
This inauguration climaxes with an unforced Armida abbandonata: the violin interjections in ‘Venti, fermate’ lack the extrovert theatricality some listeners might expect but Mameli’s conversational story-telling is maximised by Contrasto Armonico’s correct use of low Roman pitch, and Vitale’s unobtrusive direction places the limelight on the singer’s declamation of poetry.
David Vickers, Gramophone Magazine