Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Steffani Cantatas -- Handel's inspiration?

Steffani: Cantate Da Camera 
Quadro Asolano
Newton

Agostino Steffani (1650-1723) was a master of Baroque vocal chamber music. This Italian composer spent most of his professional career in Germany, first in Munich then at the court of Hanover. He composed exclusively for the voice; sacred works, secular cantatas and operas. This recording features two of the solo cantatas and four of the vocal dues he wrote.

Steffani's lyrical counterpoint was closely studied by a young Georg Frederick Handel. And that influence is easy to hear in these examples. Steffani's melodies have the same, straight-forward simplicity of Handel's. And the polyphonic passages are also a model of clarity. There's nothing fussy about Steffani's counterpoint, rather, it's all elegantly constructed.

Based on the quality of Steffani's music, it's surprising he isn't more frequently performed or recorded. So Newton's release does a real service with these world premier recordings. The performances by the Quadro Asolano are generally good, although sometimes the soprano voices are a little weak.

My only complaint is that Newton's program notes don't provide the libretti for the works. Steffani's music often illustrates or takes its character from the text its supporting. Without the libretti (or a fluency in Italian), Steffani's subtle gestures are lost on the listener.

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