Handel-Caldara: Carmelite Vespers 1709 – review

April 20, 2012 |

In 1709, Antonio Caldara succeeded Handel as maestro di cappella to Cardinal Ruspoli in Rome. The two composers had probably met the previous year, at the premiere of Handel’s La Resurrezione, but they never worked together or collaborated, as the title of these discs might imply. The Carmelite Vespers recorded here is, in fact, a modern reconstruction of what might have been performed at the Carmelite Church of Santa Maria di Montesanto on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in 1709. The Carmelite liturgy made a point of including specially commissioned antiphons, hymns and psalms. While neither Handel nor Caldara ever composed a full Vespers service, both did produce settings intended for such large-scale celebrations, so that it is just possible that their contributions might have been brought together in the way suggested here, perhaps under Caldara’s direction.

By far the best known of the elements in this 100-minute sacred pasticcio is Handel’s Dixit Dominus, which was certainly performed in Sanata Maria in 1707; there’s also the motet Saeviat Tellus composed for the same service. Caldara contributes a Salve Regina and the psalm setting Laetatus Sum as well as several antiphons. It’s all meticulously planned, but the performances wear that scholarship lightly; the lineup of soloists is a fine one – Roberta Invernizzi is the outstanding soprano, Martin Oro the characterful counter-tenor – and Alessandro de Marchi’s conducting is sparky and imaginative. For all the speculation involved, admirers of either composer will find the discs very rewarding.
The Guardian UK

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