A. Scarlatti: Passio Secundum Johannem

Giuseppina Bridelli [Evangelist], [Salvo Vitale Jesus], Millenium Orchestra, Choeur de Chambre de Namur, Leonardo García Alarcón
57:30
Ricercar RIC378

You have to read almost to the end of the booklet to discover that this is a composite work, created for this live performance by the director by inserting six of the Responsori per la Settimana Santa  from a bound collection of Scarlatti’s Holy Week music held in Bologna into his better known John Passion which can be reliably dated to 1685 in Naples.

This accounts for the abrupt change in style between the sombre polyphonic motet-style insertions and the continuous, narrative-based semi-operatic setting of the Vulgate text of John’s Passion. In this performance the Evangelist is a mezzo soprano, singing in a relatively strict measure with other characters and turbae  interjections. In this mix of recitative and arioso, it is mostly the chorus and the Christus that have the string accompaniment after the opening section. An attempt to colour the narrative and make it more dramatic by introducing changes of instrumentation into the substantial continuo line – cello, double bass, theorbo, archlute, triple harp, bass viol, organ and harpsichord – is only partially successful in making the Passion more dramatic and fluid. The text is predominantly set in major keys, with none of the modal flavour that makes the Germanic Passion narratives so antiquely ambivalent and soul-searching. This just sounds like post-Cavalli on a dull day.

It is partly that the singers – all bar two of whom are drawn from the well-prepared and well-known chorus – are not really specialists in this kind of music, so the effect is rather dated, and the vocal characterization and fluency we now expect from HIP performances just isn’t there.

As you can tell, I do not find this work – in this performance – a transformative experience. But recordings of Alessandro Scarlatti’s Passion secundum Johannem  are not that common, so while I prefer the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis version with Rene Jacobs under Fritz Neff, I’m glad to have heard it.

David Stancliffe