SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

DOMENICO SCARLATTI: La Dirindina; Sonata in g; Sonata in G; Pur nel sonno almen tal’ora – Soloists/ ars lyrica Houston/ Matthew Dirst – Sono Luminus (audio-only Blu-ray + CD)

A rare glimpse into the choral world of the non-choral Scarlatti.

Published on November 2, 2012

DOMENICO SCARLATTI: La Dirindina; Sonata in g, K88; Sonata in G, K91; Pur nel sonno almen tal’ora – Brian Shircliffe (Don Carissimo)/ Jamie Barton (Miss Dirindina)/ Joseph Gaines (Liscione)/ Celine Ricci (soprano–cantata)/ ars lyrica Houston/ Matthew Dirst – Sono Luminus multichannel audio-only Blu-ray + CD DSL-92159, 66:24 ea. [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

It is Alessandro, not Domenico Scarlatti that we normally think of when considering operas from this source. The former was wildly prolific in that arena, and though Domenico dabbled, when he finally turned to keyboard sonatas he left all and never looked back. So it is interesting to have this little “Intermezzo” as it was called, available to us. Unfortunately the piece, a bit of a sexual farce designed to give a little comic relief when a more dramatic full length opera was being given, works okay on record but not as well strictly in the audio mode. More in a minute.

As to the plot, it involves the young girl Dirindina, a singer taking voice lessons from her teacher, Don Carissimo, who has an interest in the little lady far beyond the meager confines of musical instruction. Neither is very interested in the day’s lessons, Dirindina acting contrary and intentionally being an irritant when castrato Liscione walks in and announces that Dirindina has been chosen prima donna of the Milan theater. This infuriates the Don, who hates seeing his pupil flirting with the castrato. End of act one.

Act Two opens with the castrato stroking the ego of Dirindina, whereas the young singer promises, in a bizarre aria, to bring unctuous seduction to the Milanese public. A mock enactment of Dido and Aeneas takes place, only to have the Don, who doesn’t understand the joke, think that his student is pregnant and ready to kill herself. All ends well, if somewhat silly, the old teacher looking rather feckless and confused.

The thirteen numbers of this piece are the problem for a recording, as half are recitatives and half arias, with the former usually about twice as long as the latter. Scarlatti being no Monteverdi where recitatives are concerned, these are not that interesting, and though the arias are quite entertaining and musical, there just aren’t enough of them. It would be much easier to make acquaintance with the piece if one was watching a stage production. Nevertheless, the committed performances more than do the work full justice.

Sandwiched between the acts is one of two sonatas on this recording, this one for two harpsichords, while the one that follows could have been for multiple instruments in a more chamber music fashion. Some scholars are beginning to wonder if some of the established harpsichord sonatas were indeed intended for more than one instrument. Without getting into that fray, I can say that these are well-played and make an acceptable divider in this program.

The cantata At least in sleep my beloved comes to comfort my pains on a libretto by Metastasio, is a rather moody cantata in two parts, dwelling on a man whose love is unrequited and given to a rival. The piece is tempestuous, surprisingly, considering the very tender opening, which includes a two part overture of sorts. It is definitely the best vocal work on the disc.

All of the performers are really outstanding, and Houston is lucky to have such a performing group available in its environs.

A note on the two discs: The first is Blu-ray audio only which offers a 7.1, 24-bit/ 96 kHz  DTS-MA version, a 5.1 24-bit/ 192 kHz DTS-MA version (the one I used on my Blu-ray player), and a 2.0, 24-bit/ 192 kHz PCM recording that I also listened to. The ones I heard were terrific, even the PCM providing much aural pleasure. The standalone CD was also good, heard over earphones from my computer. As far as I can see this release is also priced very reasonably, so no need to delay. [Perhaps this type of packaging, and inclusion of a standard CD of the same material, will make the audio-only Blu-ray format a success…Ed.]

—Steven Ritter

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