Ahhhh...Arcadia! Nymphs and shepherds, soft grass and tender flowers, woods and forests, streams and tinkling brooks - familiar images all from a generation of poets and composers. But in Italy in the 1690s, these were more than simple pastoral landscapes; this was a reaction against baroque excess, a back-to-basics campaign for simple classical truths in natural settings, after the formal complexity and super-sophistication of the music of the courts. But the Vatican had banned opera, so it all had to take place in private, in the secretive Accademia Arcadia founded by the music-loving Queen Christina of Sweden. Andreas Scholl asks us to think of the circumstances in which these almost unknown cantatas were composed: playful, impulsive music written by a group of talented young composers in their 20s, performed at weekends in a garden outside Rome with a small instrumental ensemble - party pieces for a Baroque hippy club he calls them!
Some members of the Accademia are familiar - Alessandro Scarlatti and Arcangelo Corelli - but the beauty of thiscd is the thrill of discovery: the earthy simplicity of Gasparini's 'Destati, Lydia mia'. 'Wake up, Lydia! Already the birds are singing about the pleasure we shall experience today'.
In Bernardo Pasquini's 'Navicella, ove ten vai', a maritime metaphor is employed to warn against the dangers of life's journey even for the rich: beware the angry surge of the sea, which does not spare ships for their wealth. Favourite for me is another Gasparini cantata: 'Ecco, che alfin ritorno' - a faithful shepherd, disappointed in love, returns to the comforting shade of the woods to lick his wounds surrounded by healing nature. These would probably have been performed by castrati, no longer encouraged at court, but Scholl's polished counter-tenor is suitably seductive, his interpretative instincts engaging...the only disturbing moments the rare occasions when he drops into chest-voice at the bottom of his range, and seems to leap forward a couple of metres in the mix.
The playing of the Italian ensemble Accademia Bizantina, led from the harpsichord by Ottavio Dantone, is alive to every vocal gesture and the colourful opportunities offered by the text - the twittering of the birds, the crowing of the cock, the surging of the sea. The vocal works are separated with instrumental numbers by Pasquini and Corelli, and if anyone can sell this recital of world premieres, it's Scholl. Go on, lose the bustle of our busy 21st century world; explore the timeless beauties of Arcadia, and return refreshed.
Like This? Try These:
Andreas Scholl: Wayfaring Stranger
Landi: Homo fugit velut umbra (L'Arpeggiata)
Missa Mexicana: The Harp Consort