Albinoni: 12 Cantatas for Soprano and Contralto Op. 4

Cover of CD Albinoni op 4 cantatas for soprano and alto

Silvia Frigato soprano, Elena Biscuola alto, L’Arte dell’Arco
99:48 (2 Cds in a single case)
Brilliant Classics 95600

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As an amateur musician of independent means (his family’s paper business supported his initial musical career), Albinoni was able to approach composition without the need of financial success, allowing him a degree of creative freedom denied composers following a more hand-to-mouth existence. As his career as a composer of instrumental music, but primarily as an opera composer, flourished, he gradually dispensed with the financial prop of family money and with the soubriquet ‘amateur’. His opus 4, six cantatas each for soprano and contralto with continuo, his only published vocal music, seem to be early work of around 1700 when such pieces were in considerable vogue in Italy. It is a chastening thought that the opus 4 collection was lost until the early 20th century when a single copy was identified by Edward J. Dent – the situation had been complicated by the issuing of a pirate opus 4 of instrumental music by Albinoni! These cantatas are charming works dealing with a variety of love scenarios, and entirely distinct in style from the later operas. The featured singers – soprano Silvia Frigato and contralto Elena Biscuola – have beautifully appropriate voices, singing expressively and with elegantly discrete ornamentation, while the accompanying ensemble take the wording of the title page of the cantatas literally and feel free to reduce the accompaniment at certain points to either cello or harpsichord. These are wonderfully nuanced performances of utterly charming repertoire vividly captured by the sound engineer, Matteo Costa, and presented in an exemplary package by this excellent budget label.

D. James Ross