Oratorio by Perti on French music label CD cover

Maria Cristina Kiehr Anne de Bretagne, Lucile Richardot Louise d’Angoulème, Valerio Contaldo Charles VIII, Stephan MacLeod St Francis de Paola, Concerto Soave, Jean-Marc Aymes
75:30
Lanvellec Editions LE00002

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Such is the embarrassing abundance of gifted Italian composers in the 17th and 18th centuries that the likes of Giacomo Antonio Perti, a composer of operas and oratorios, could be completely forgotten until virtually our own times. Boasting probably the longest career in the history of music, he began composing in 1678 at the age of 17 and was still composing when he died in 1756 at the age of 95! The musicologist Franco Lora has been able to ascribe this anonymous and rather curious oratorio to Perti on the basis of circumstances, style and sheer quality. Three of the four vocal parts are French Royals and the fourth is St Francis, and the music is democratically divided between all four with each receiving the same number of recitatives and arias. Surprisingly each half concludes with a duet, seemingly a convention which allowed the audience to prepare their exit! The piece demonstrates Perti’s inventive sense of melody and skill with his voices and orchestral forces. For me, the highlight of the casting is the presence of alto Lucile Richardot, whose lovely full contralto voice and innate musicality I noticed immediately before consulting the cast list. Unfortunately, the singing is not uniformly of this superlative standard – the two men are fine, but soprano Maria Cristina Kiehr sounds a little uninspired and vocally lazy by comparison. Perti’s reputation is slowly returning in the light of performances of his work, and if this piece is by him, it further enhances the reputation of a man much admired as a composer and teacher in his own very long lifetime. A star pupil of Celano, in turn the star pupil of Carissimi and in turn the teacher of Torelli and Padre Martini, he occupies a pivotal position in the development of Italian music, and like Clementi a century later, his sheer longevity and constantly evolving style ensured that he was extensively influential. 

D. James Ross

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