“Via Crucis: Rappresentazione della gloriosa Passione di Cristo” = Nuria Rial, soprano / Phillippe Jaroussky, countertenor / Fulvio Bettini, baritone / Vincenzo Capezzuto, Neapolitan tenor / Barbara Furtuna / L’Arpeggiata / Christina Pluhar – Virgin Classics 50999 694577 0, 70:35 ***1/2:
I think it’s good occasionally for a reviewer to be uninitiated in cultural phenomena that he should probably know something about. It gives him a fresh ear and an approach free of preconceptions, even if he can’t leave his prejudices behind. Which is where I stand in regard to Christina Pluhar and her group L’Arpeggiata. Some CD collectors wait impatiently for her next project, but Via Crucis is not only my first experience of Christina Pluhar, I had never heard of her till now.
In case you, too, are unaware, Pluhar is a harpist who leads an instrumental group performing on instruments of the late-Middle Ages and Renaissance. However, the novelty of L’Arpeggiata is that its projects mix old music and new, classical and folk music, even sneaking in jazz and other pop-musical influences along the way. These projects take off from a concept based on some cultural tradition of olden times, in this case the mystery plays of medieval Europe, which were a development of brief dramas (tropes) originally presented in monasteries and churches. In Northern Europe, the mystery plays burgeoned into grand cycles of dramas involving hundreds of actors and dozens of “stages” mounted on the beds of wagons. In Italy, the similar laude popolari, which presented a series of dramatic scenes based on Bible stories and saints’ lives, developed from earlier religious musical processions known as laude spirituali.
The notes to this recording tell us that the tradition of the laude popolari lives on today in Italy, where Passion Plays are enacted during Holy Week. In emotionally charged reenactments, Italian villagers retrace the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross). This is the setup for the current Via Crucis, a representation “of the Passion, with music of the seventeenth century interspersed with contemporary pieces from Corsica and southern Italy.”
Generally, I avoid crossover/concept albums such as this, but this one has the benefit of a well-planned and interesting conceptual frame, as well as the talents of musicians who command a variety of styles and play their old instruments as if they were born with them in their hands. Singers Rial and Jaroussky, two of today’s brightest stars in Baroque opera performance, make this a feast for lovers of Renaissance and Baroque vocal music as well. Barbara Furtuna, a Sicilian vocal quartet specializing in folk song of Southern Italy, hold up the folk-derived end of the program.
I have to say that their contribution to the program, in numbers such as the traditional Corsican Suda sangue and Stabat mater, do nothing special for me; it’s a matter of the music as much as their vocal delivery. For other listeners, these sections may be Saltimbocca to the ears.
On the other hand, though I generally cringe at the thought of mixing old music and pop influence, I got with the program, I guess, because I truly enjoyed the souped-up versions of Merula’s Ciaccona and Allegri’s Canario. Even Monteverdi’s ravishing Laudate Dominum, which probably doesn’t need the bossanova-beat treatment and cool percussion riffs to make points with a contemporary audience, is a guilty pleasure, and ravishingly sung by Nuria Rial. Doron David Sherwin’s by-turns crooning and jazzy playing of the cornett (Zink) is guaranteed to make purists cringe and the more open-minded marvel that you can actually do that on an old piece of wood. Again, if you get with the program, the playing is irresistibly enlivening.
I do wish, however, that Via Crucis hadn’t ended with Gragnaniello’s ’Stù Criato. The text may bespeak Christian devotion, but the tune, the swinging performance, and Christina Pluhar’s arrangement sound about as spiritual as Christian rock.
But mostly I enjoyed this album. A steady diet of Pluhar/L’Arpeggiata is not in my future, but occasional grazing is definitely indicated.
Ninna nanna alla Napoletana
Maxine Merlandi, based on a tarantella of Caprino, arr. Pluhar:
Hor ch’è tempo di dormire
Lumi, potete piangere
Queste pngente spine
Giovanni Felice Sances:
Maurizio Cazzati and Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli, arr. Pluhar:
Roccu Mambrini, Toni Casalonga, and Nando Acquaviva based on la Follia, arr. Pluhar:
Lamentu di Ghjesu
Ciaccona di Paradiso e dell’Inferno