Steffani: Baccanali

Ensemble Cremona Antiqua, Antonio Greco
85:09 (2 CDs in a case)
Dynamic CDS 7770.02

In the wake of Cecilia Bartoli’s 2013 exploration of Steffani’s operatic, sacred and instrumental outputs, this package offers us a complete recording of his opera Baccanali, composed in 1695 for the Duke Ernest Augustus of Hannover. The orchestra of the Ensemble Cremona Antiqua play one to a part, with two violins, one viola, cello, violone and pairs each of flutes (actually recorders) and oboes, all played with considerable finesse. The recording was made live at the Festival della Valle d’Itria, and there is considerable background from onstage movements, the audience and most distracting a considerable and pretty constant infrasound rumbling either from moving scenery or passing traffic. The live onstage singing is also a bit patchy, with some singers coping better than others with a clearly very active production. It is useful and interesting to have a complete Steffani opera available, and there are some undoubtedly lovely musical moments in this, but without the visuals to ‘explain’ the intrusive background noises, I found these very distracting to the extent that it was difficult to shut them out sufficiently to enjoy the music. So I can report that this opera seems to bear out the promise of Bartoli’s initial operatic samples – Steffani is definitely worth further attention, but this performance should have been taken into a recording studio to do Steffani and the musicians and singers justice. Another foolish economy was evident in the poor English translation of the programme note, replete with grammatical howlers. A missed opportunity.

D. James Ross