American Record Guide
, June 2007
Ferrari has become a specialist in the music of Giovanni Battista Sammartini (c.1700–75), has made a 3-CD set of the composer’s “Complete Early Symphonies for String Orchestra” (Nuova Era 7206), and lately he has picked on the trail of an earlier Sammartini champion, Newell Jenkins.
One of Sammartini’s posts was musical director to a confraternity in Milan that held service every Friday in Lent. He composed cantatas for these services, based on Italian texts dramatizing aspects of Christ’s Passion. Each had three characters, written for soprano, contralto, and tenor. Eight of those cantatas survive, five of them the cycle for 1751, the other three for 1759 and 1760. (They are num 117–124 in the Sammartini catalog created by Jenkins and Bathia Churgin.) In early LP days, Jenkins recorded the second and third of (one for Haydn Society, one for Angelicum).
Ferrari recorded in 1996 two of the initial cycle: the second, The Lament of the Devout Women (II Pianto delle Pie Donne), and the fourth, The Lament of Magdalene at the Sepulchre (Pianto di Maddalena al Sepolcro). That pairing (7269) may be hard to find now, but Ferrari has now gone on to record all the other six for Naxos. The first release (557431: J/A 2005) offered the first cantata, The Lament of Saint Peter (II Pianto di San Pietro) and the fifth, The Sorrowing Mary (Maria Addolorata). The next release (557432: S/O 2006) contained just the third cantata, The Lament of the Angels of Peace (Pianto degli Angeli della Pace), plus one of the composer’s symphonies.
With the 1751 cycle completed, the present release moves on to the later years. The sixth cantata, Ungrateful, Denying Jerusalem (Gerusalemme Sconoscente Ingrata), is here with some extras. The seventh and eighth cantatas are promised. All of these performances use Ferrari’s own critical editions.
The sixth cantata here originally bore a more provocative title: Jewish Wickedness in the e most Holy Passion of Jesus Christ (La Perfidia Giudaica…). Its characters are the three Marys—Salome (tenor), Cleophas (contralto), and Magdalene (soprano), who discuss the news of Jesus’ trial before Pilate and the release of Barabbas to the mob instead of Jesus. The text mercilessly condemns “thankless Zion” for its brutal betrayal of Christ. This sounds painfully anti-Semitic to us, but for Sammartini (who, by 1759, might have been running out of ideas for Passion themes) it was simply fleshing out what was conventional Christian doctrine for his day, in music that remains undeniably expressive.
The cantata runs just over 37 minutes, and the fillers include a Psalm verse, ‘Confitebor tibi Domine’, a Latin adaptation of an aria in the seventh cantata (in the disc to come). Then there are two more short symphonies, in E-flat (J-C 25) and G minor (J-C 56): they do not seem to be recorded elsewhere. The first movement of the E-flat one appears with slightly altered scoring in the fifth cantata.
Ferrari’s vocal team here is the most balanced he has used in the series. The reliable Mapelli has been a regular through it all, while Tiboni has turned up sometimes, and Yordanova is a welcome newcomer. Each has a recitative and an aria, as in all these cantatas, and the three deliver them with admirable style and sincerity. I did feel, though, that Tiboni sounded a little strained in his Psalm solo. The orchestral work is excellent. The really mandatory separation of first and second violins across channels pays off superlatively in the E-flat Symphony. Ferrari’s direction is sensitive and dependable at all times.
Those who have already gotten hooked on this series will not want to miss the remaining volumes; others should plunge in and hope that the initial Nuova Era release will somehow survive. Full texts and translations here.