What a shame the American continent had to wait 300 years for this wonder.
ALESSANDRO SCARLATTI: La Gloria di Primavera – Performers: Diana Moore (Primavera)/ Suzana Ograjensek (Estate)/ Clint Van Der Linde (Autumno)/ Nicholas Phan (tenor)/ Douglas Williams (Giove)/ Philharmonia Baroque Orch. & Chorale/ Nicholas McGegan – Naxos Pure Audio Blu-ray PBP-09BD (5.1 surround + PCM 2.0), TT: 138:36 *****:
It’s amazing that this work, unearthed after a 300-year hibernation, has come to light again, especially considering its scope—well over two hours long, obviously a major effort by any standard. McGegan and company have brought it to light in honor of the 30th season of his Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (has it been so long?), and the piece certainly deserves it. Scarlatti was asked if he could produce, rather quickly, an occasional piece honoring the recent and long awaited birth of Archduke Leopold Johann, the heir of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI. This birth was hoped to assuage the long-standing European wars, but hopes faded fast when the unfortunate Archduke didn’t last very long. Neither, apparently, did Scarlatti’s serenata, a work somewhere between a cantata and an opera, not staged, and in form rather simple—a series of recitatives followed by an aria, to rather banal texts in this case.
The piece is a mythical allegory based on historical facts. The four personified seasons reminisce on the significance of the prince’s birth. A second cycle of arias contrasts the horrors of the recently ended War of the Spanish Succession with the beneficial-for-all peace brought by the Treaty of Utrecht (1713). Unable to agree which of them had more importance in terms of the conception, preservation and the birth of the April-born crown prince, the seasons invoke Jove to be their judge. Appearing at the beginning of the second part, the supreme god listens to their claims and obviously decides that Spring (Primavera), is the prizewinner. The remainder of the work consists of benedictions from each season on the newborn and his role in the Empire, a return to the textual themes of the opening scene: a continuation of the Hapsburg line, immortality, and protection from threats against the Empire.
Evidently the double-CD release of this work had complete Italian to English translations with notes in a 64-page booklet, so I feel rather cheated in the extremely skimpy two-page listing of tracks only! Too many Blu-ray productions do this, for some obscure reason. It would also be nice to have them issued in CD-size containers since this is music and will end up on most people’s music shelves. However, there is nothing stingy about the sound or performances; superb 5.1 surround with excellent depth and breadth. The Philharmonia has really jelled in 30 years and sounds terrific, while McGegan, though hardly slow-paced, seems to have mellowed enough to let some of this outstanding music breathe a little. Just listen to the meltingly warm aria “Fuor dell’urna le bell’onde” as an example, though there are many more.
In general, the women are the more successful in their presentation than the men, the latter lacking to some degree in clarity and forcefulness in a few of the arias, but this is nothing critical. As I said, the music is sensational from first to last, and that, after all, is what really matters. A wonderful addition to the repertory in great surround sound!