CALDARA. Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo. Schola Cantorum/Jacob
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|1. Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo: Parte prima: No.1 Sinfonia|
|2. Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo: Parte prima: No.2 'Aria : Dormi, o cara, e formi il sonno' (Amor Terreno)|
|3. Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo: Parte prima: No.3 Recitativo; 'Cosi godea la mente' (Amor Terreno)|
|4. Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo: Parte prima: No.4 Aria; 'Deh, librate amoretti' (Amor Terreno)|
|5. Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo: Parte prima: No.5 Recitativo; 'Del sonno lusinghiero' (Amor Celeste, Amor Terreno)|
|6. Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo: Parte prima: No.6 Aria; 'La ragione, s'un'alma conseglia' (Amor Celeste)|
|7. Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo: Parte prima: No.7 Recitativo; 'Cosi sciolta da'lacci de'sui error' (Amor Celeste, Amor Terreno)|
|8. Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo: Parte prima: No.8 Allegro; 'Alle vittorie' (Amor Celeste, Amor Terreno)|
|9. Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo: Parte prima: No.9 Recitativo; 'Oime, troppo importuno' (Maddalena)|
|10. Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo: Parte prima: No.10 Aria; 'In un bivio e il mio volere' (Maddalena)|
See all 28 tracks on this disc
|1. Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo: Parte seconda: No.29 Sinfonia|
|2. Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo: Parte seconda: No.30 Recitativo; 'Donna grande e fastosa' (Fariseo)|
|3. Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo: Parte seconda: No.31 Aria; 'Parti, che di virtu il gradito splendor' (Fariseo)|
|4. Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo: Parte seconda: No.32 Recitativo; 'Cingan pure quest'alma' (Maddalena, Cristo, Fariseo)|
|5. Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo: Parte seconda: No.33 Aria; 'Chi con sua cetra' (Maddalena)|
|6. Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo: Parte seconda: No.34 Recitativo; 'Maddalena, deh, ferma' (Amor Terreno, Amor Celeste, Fariseo, Maddalena)|
|7. Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo: Parte seconda: No.35 Aria; 'In lagrime stemprato il cor qui cade' (Maddalena)|
|8. Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo: Parte seconda: No.36 Recitativo; 'Oh ciel, chi vide mai la penitenza' (Amor Terreno, Amor Celeste, Cristo)|
|9. Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo: Parte seconda: No.37 Aria; 'Ride il ciel e gl'astri brillano' (Cristo )|
|10. Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo: Parte seconda: No.38 Recitativo; 'a tuo dispetto, Amor Terreno' (Amor Celeste, Amor Terreno)|
See all 31 tracks on this disc
Caldara, Venise et l'oratorio...
Importé à Venise plus de 70 ans après sa naissance, l'oratorio connaît à partir de 1690 un fort regain d'intérêt dans la cité des doges - ce grâce à Antonio Caldara. Ses quelque quarante contributions au genre s'imposent au tournant du XVIIIe siècle comme des oeuvres maîtresses, dont Marie-Madeleine aux pieds du Christ serait en somme l'étendard. A l'intérieur d'un cadre structurel fixe (récit/air), le compositeur parvient à une intensité dramatique étonnant, qui n'est pas sans évoquer Pergolesi ou le Vivaldi du Stabat Mater.
One should expect nothing less from the world's first city of opera, Venice, than that its oratorios sound like operas. This gorgeous work (from about 1700) takes a reasonably bald Biblical story--the repentance and conversion of Mary Magdalene--and turns it into a psychodrama of profound intensity, as the forces of Earthly and Celestial love battle for the Magdalene's soul. Just as in opera seria, each character is given an 'anger' aria, a lament, an expression of anguish and so on, so that every singer has a chance to demonstrate the whole range of his or her voice--and on this recording those voices are superb. Andreas Scholl brings an eager warmth to the role of Celestial Love, while Maria Cristina Kiehr gives an edge of wildness to the drama of Mary Magdalen's conflict. The acoustic of the recording also captures perfectly the aura of Venetian sensuousness that one associates with St Mark's, say, without sacrificing the need for clarity of detail. The orchestra is never less than excellent, and director René Jacobs keeps the drama at fever pitch. --Warwick Thompson
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Despite the title of this piece, this is not 'churchy' music. It has everything that good drama has, and if it were a book it would be unputdownable. Caldara gives us action, showing himself to be every bit as much dramatist as composer. The story and the pace never flag for a minute. René Jacobs moves it along at a cracking pace and makes it a memorable event. It must have been wonderful to take part.
Amor Celeste and Amor Terreno are battling for the heart and soul of Maddalena. It opens with Fink's stunning Amor Terreno, seductive enough to capture the heart of a stone. In trying to win Maddalena, her ornamentations paint vivid pictures of "drunk with pleasure". Then, in charges Scholl's Amor Celeste, powerful and confident of winning the battle hands down - but then so is Fink's Amor Terreno, full of strength and depth. You can't take sides at their declaration of war, the duet Alle vittorie, because both are convincing - and their voices blend perfectly. The sheer strength of Scholl's voice in this piece brushes aside the familiar accusations of "too ethereal".
Their awesome battle duets punctuate the unfolding drama as Maddalena agonises - in dialogue with her sister - over her choices, and the orchestra supports them with real fire. The chest-thumping opening provided by Chiara Banchini's string band in the duet La mia virtude/Il senso è un nemico makes an impact that would lift you off your seat in a concert hall (if only). When Amor Terreno is finally defeated, the colours of her fury are so vivid you can taste it, and it's clear that the only destiny for such rage is Hell. Amor Celeste's victory-celebration Su, lieti festeggiate has the earthy gusto of mens' peasant dances. A rather earthy sound for Amor Celeste at this point... even the metaphysical Mr Scholl sounds as though he could stomp his feet.
This recording made Maria Cristina Kiehr a star, and she has never sounded better than as Maddalena. Her clear voice expresses longing, indecision, passion and tranquillity with equal facility, and is never less than completely beautiful. Her expressions, as Maddalena changes course, develop brilliantly. Her cry of "Signor, pietate!" is the pivot of the whole thing - high drama indeed.
All the singers are now stars, and every performance is stunning. Un-improvable.
So many of the tunes are completely original and whistle-able, even dance-able, that I am surprised they are not better known. They certainly stick in the memory, if only because the repeat button on the CD player gets a lot of use. This composition is a masterpiece and the 2-CD set a great Baroque luxury.
The very last note is a complete surprise -- pure genius from Caldara.
Caldara's oratorio depicts the inner struggle, between heavenly and earthly love, for the soul and conscience of Mary Magdalene, in her 'repentant sinner' persona as frequently depicted since biblical times. It's a highly effective formula for drama, emotion and for music both heavenly and seductive, and Caldara makes the most of these opportunities. To list just a few highlights among many passages of great beauty, there's Amor Terreno (Earthly love)'s poignant first aria 'Dormi, o cara' (CD1/2); the powerful, characterful melody of Amor Celeste (Heavenly love)'s aria 'La ragione' (6); Maddalena's tormented recitative 'Oimè, troppo importuno' (9), followed by her beautiful, tortured aria 'In un bivio' (10) with wonderfully expressive instrumental support. Then there's the superb melody of 'Fin che danzan' from Amor Terreno who, of course, gets many of the best tunes (14); the wonderful Handelian melodies of 'Il sentier' (20) and Maddalena's 'Diletti non più vanto' (22), her graceful 'Voglio piangere' (26), and the ferocity of the musical contest between Terreno and Celeste in 'La mia virtude' (28).
In the second part (CD2), there are further delights in Maddalena's lovely aria over a walking bass 'In lagrime stemprato' (7), the dramatic fury of Amor Terreno's 'Orribili, terribili' (13), the powerfully engaging melody of Cristo's 'Del senso soggiogar' (21), Amor Celeste's superb celebratory 'Sù, lieti festeggiate' beautifully carried off by Andreas Scholl (27), Amor Terreno's furious 'Voi del Tartaro' (29), and Maddalena's delicate, tender closing 'Chi serva la beltà' (31).
Performance at every level is outstanding, with superb contributions from Maria Christina Kiehr as Maddalena, Bernarda Fink as Amor Terreno, Andreas Scholl as Amor Celeste and Gerd Türk as Cristo. The instrumental work is every bit as good, with the period instruments of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis bringing energy, finesse and superb baroque style to all their contributions. But the greatest assets of all are, firstly, the imaginative vision, panache, sensitivity and insight which director René Jacobs brings to the work; and, above all, the sheer quality and beauty of the music of Antonio Caldara's extraordinary baroque masterpiece. This set really does deserve a place in the collection of every baroque enthusiast and, in fact, of every lover of fine vocal music.
And it's really all about Maddalena; Cristo doesn't appear until the 9th track on the second CD. In fact, the entire libretto is an "agon" -- the Greek root of 'agony' means a 'wrestling match' -- between Amor Terreno (Earthy Love) and Amor Celeste (Heavenly Love), with Maddalena as the Prize. The genius of this libretto, and of the music that expresses it, is that the fight is not 'fixed'. Both sides are musically attractive. Earthy Love has the first word, singing a tender lullaby to Maddalena, which Heavenly Love interrupts harshly and aggressively. The debate continues, with Earthly Love's musical affect rich with enticements and embellishments, while Heavenly Love's music is restrained, serene, but just a touch severe. In other words, these two allegorical figures have plausible musical personalities, and the choice in this performance of a woman soprano for Earthly and a male soprano for Heavenly emphasizes the contrast between their appeals marvelously.
Maddalena is portrayed as sorrowing and guilt-stricken, yet tormented with doubts. Her sister Marta weighs in on the side of Heavenly Love, assuring the beautiful sinner that forgiveness is possible. It's Marta who first instructs Maddalena to seek out 'the Nazarene'. Meanwhile the 'agon' continues between the two Loves, becoming ever more frenzied and recriminatory. The first part of the oratorio (CD 1) ends with a quarrel duet, with both Loves vowing a fight to the finish.
The 'Parte Seconda" (CD 2) introduces a new antagonist, a Pharisee in the company of the Nazarene, sung by a bass. The Pharisee is the voice of propriety, of the Old Law, rejecting the notion of effective repentance, and striving to deny Maddalena the right to approach the rabbi. Eventually, Cristo, a tenor, rebukes the Pharisee for his sanctimonious hardness and allows Maddalena to perform her penitential abasement, washing and anointing his feet. In the background, the battle rages on between Earthly and Heavenly, both appealing to the "stars' for justification. Earthly Love's final aria is a raging submission to defeat, blaming her stars. Maddalena sings the last recitativo and aria, with words of penitence sung to music of beatific consolation.
This performance was recorded in 1995, by the faculty and some students of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, the "Harvard and Oxford" of Early Music, with René Jacobs conducting. The recording was a labor of Love, in several senses, with concertmistress Chiara Banchini leading an orchestra of stars and future stars. The six singers must have known that they were performing the roles of their lives; all of them have recorded often, but none of them have ever exceeded their performances here. That's especially true of countertenor Andreas Scholl, who sings Amore Celeste; this is his finest singing, both in expressive vocal timbre and in technical virtuosity. Bernarda Fink (Amor Terreno) matches him in virtuosity and contrasts with him perfectly in timbre; she is thoroughly, enticingly 'earthly'. Tenor Gerd Türk is at his best in the role of Cristo, and basso Ulrich Messthaler sings the grim Pharisee's arias with musical grace and emotional hatefulness, a compelling performance elevated by the potent two-bassoon obbligato ferocity. Rosa Domiguez sings the smaller but touching role of the loyal sister Marta; her several arias are effectively poignant. The finest performance of all is that of Maria Christina Kiehr as Maddalena; once again, I have to say that I've never heard a more polished and poised performance from a bona fide 'star' of baroque performance practice. Everyone involved in this recording knew how fine the music was and how definitive their performance of it would be.
This is, without hesitation, the GB Must-Buy CD set for march 2010. Let's make that the Must-Buy of the decade, a magnificent performance of a major masterwork, music that places Caldara in the Pantheon of baroque composers.