I grabbed this disc when it was first released, simply to hear what the actual music of these composers sounded like. Names such as Jommelli, Paisiello, Piccini, Sacchini and Leo at best might pepper academic texts, but their actual music is very rare in the recorded catalog. Pergolesi has had better staying power with his "Stabat Mater", but the operas that made him popular in his lifetime are never recorded. Eager to hear this music performed at all, the performers turned out to be rewarding on their own merits in addition to the uniqueness of the material.
Stylistically, this music is the early Classical period, still heavily influenced by the Baroque's emphasis on vocal ornament and a certain rhythmic propulsion, but also incorporating longer forms, more varied orchestral effects and a slightly enlarged harmonic palette. These were all Italian composers who were incredibly popular in their time but whose music was forgotten once they were gone. While not earth-shatteringly dramatic or compositionally ingenius, nonetheless the arias are lyrical, catchy and expressive (and what more can you ask for?). The number by Jommelli is an engaging, expressive scene from his opera "Armida", Pergolesi's "Lieto Cosi Tal Volto" is a melodic masterpiece featuring long vocal lines with a warm flute obbligato and the 3 different settings of the same aria from Metastasio's "L'Olimpiade" allows an ear-catching comparison of how 3 different composers approach the same text/sentiment. Apparently composers other than Mozart and Handel could write good music during the 18th century!
The Savaria Baroque Orchestra with soprano Monika Gonzalez was a real find, turning a refreshing historical discovery into "music" that is enjoyed here and now. Gonzalez's light, floating voice may not 'grip' listeners used to more voluminous sopranos, but it is well suited to these pieces/texts: she demonstrates energy tempered with a classical restraint, and handles the technically difficult aspects of the music ably. She is effectively paired with the Savario Baroque Orchestra, a band I'm now eager to hear more of. Gonzalez's voice becomes an extension of the orchestra (a soloist), who play with an airy yet incisive approach; the performance reminded me of Maria Callas's description of the operatic voice being the "first instrument of the orchestra".
This disc was refreshing in that it presented historical music in "flesh and blood" musical terms, avoiding a dry academic reading. A must-have for aficionados of this genre, and highly recommended for mainstream opera fans looking for something slightly different.