An Epiphany Gift

On the liturgical calendar, the Feast of the Epiphany is celebrated 12 days after Christmas. But it took the combined efforts of the Spanish and U.S. postal services over a month to deliver my copy of the Glossa recording of Cristofaro Caresana’s L’Adoratione de’Magi. Glossa posted it on December 1st and it arrived early this week. No matter, I treasure the recording as much as if it were gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

My cd is somewhere in there

L’Adoratione de’Magi is a collection of three delightful Christmastide cantatas by the little-known Neapolitan composer Caresana (c.1640 – 1709). Of course, Caresana and Antonio Florio’s Cappella della Pietà de’Turchini share some history together. It was I Turchini (as they are now known) who resurrected the music of Caresana and other forgotten Neapolitan masters like Provenzale, Latilla and Vinci through a series of recordings called Tesori di Napoli on the Symphonia, Opus 111 and Eloquentia labels. Things change. Symphonia has all but disappeared, Eloquentia is extremely difficult to find and Opus 111 was absorbed by Naïve. Unfortunately, Naïve never seemed to get behind the series.

Glossa Music wisely snatched up I Turchini and the Caresana recording is the first in what I hope is a long and fruitful relationship between the label and the ensemble. I first encountered Caresana on a spectacular Opus 111 recording called Per la Nascita del Verbo, a Neapolitan Christmas music collection. This marvelous music is completely unaffected, marvelously raucous and sweetly melodic. The same can be said for what’s on L’Adoratione de’Magi.

A Neapolitan treasure indeed!

The music has an earthy, folk-like flavor. Dance rhythms pop up and blend nicely with the honeyed melodic lines. Think of your favorite rustic Italian dance whirling around arias by Alessandro Scarlatti and you’ll have an idea of what’s offered in the cantata La Veglia, and be sure to linger over “Dormi o ninno,” one of the most beautiful lullabies ever written.

I love the broad strokes with which the characters are painted. Lucifer is a bellowing lout (boisterously sung by bass Giuseppe Naviglio) in Demonio, Angelo e Tre Pastore, a comic verbal sparring match between angels and a demon and shepherds (who express their joy with a lovely dance to end the cantata). The spirit of the commedia dell’arte hovers over all and the result is delicious.

Commedia dell’arte hijinks

It’s not all high spirits though. These works were very much products of the counter-reformation and served a didactic function. I was especially struck by the pained, plunging chromaticism on a phrase one of the Magi sings in the title cantata as he presents the gift of myrrh and refers to the sacrifice the infant will make as an adult.

The Magi and the infant

There’s also a solo voice cantata honoring San Gennaro, Sembri Stella Felice, Partenope Leggiadra. San Gennaro is the patron saint of Naples and his chief feast days fall in May, September and December, so the cantata is not out of place on a Christmas record and is a stirring snapshot that captures the essence of devotion in the 17th-century city. Rounding out the recording are two sonatas for strings by Pietro Andrea Ziani, which provide nice contrast between the cantatas.

The performances are all outstanding and feature many of the singers who have made the Tesori di Napoli series one of the best ever made. The liner notes are by Dinko Fabris who knows more about this music than any living soul. Nobody performs this music with the same skill and exuberance as I Turchini and I rejoice that Glossa was smart enough to pick them up.

Celebrate Epiphany and get this one now!

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