Antonio Caldara has been doing quite well in the CD catalogues in recent years, with a fair number of recordings of his vocal music, both sacred and secular, and of his instrumental works too. His recognition is well-deserved, for he was a brilliant late-baroque composer of great versatility, imagination and melodic invention. However, this Requiem was only recently discovered in a Prague library and this is its first recording. In fact it remains incomplete, and it’s not known whether the missing sections were lost or simply never composed; it is also not known for whom, or for what occasion, it was written.
For this recording, therefore, we get Caldara’s ‘Requiem aeternam’, ‘Kyrie’ and ‘Dies irae’ movements, amounting to around 40 minutes of music, with added fillers in the form of two instrumental works and, to round off the Requiem format, the closing movements from his ‘Missa dolorosa’. Both music and performances are very fine indeed. Musica Fiorita are a talented and stylish Basel-based period instrument ensemble, here including a choir of twelve voices singing with 3 voices per part including male altos; they are directed with excellent style and spirit by Daniela Dolci. The instruments include a substantial continuo section, so there is plenty of enjoyable plucking and strumming to add to the textural variety. The opening ‘Requiem’ and ‘Kyrie’ sections are all very lovely, with a fine fugal closing Kyrie passage which is moved along very nicely in this performance. ‘Dies irae’ opens with forceful instrumental motifs, and there are especially fine parts for two natural trumpets in ‘Tuba mirum’. ‘Rex tremendae’ is a lovely, graceful section for soprano, again very nicely taken here. ‘Oro supplex’ has a similarly fine passage for bass solo. In fact, there are many solo and concerted passages for voices throughout the work; they are sung by unspecified members of Musica Fiorita’s vocal group, and in all cases they are very finely done. The music is equally full of graceful instrumental ritornelli and distinctive, expressive melodies. Altogether this Requiem Mass, or what remains of it, is a lovely work.
Of the two instrumental works, here interspersed between the movements of the Requiem, the first - a Trio Sonata in E minor op. 1 no. 5 - begins with an appropriately solemn and beautiful Grave; it is a fine piece which, again, receives a lovely performance from the instrumentalists. Later on, in recognition of Caldara’s own instrument, we get the Sonata in A major no. 15 for solo cello and continuo; it goes well on the whole, except that in the third movement the players take the marking ‘Aria non molto allegro’ rather too literally and it just about grinds to a halt in a couple of places. But this, for me at least, was the only flaw in the entire programme and so I’ve readily forgiven it for the purposes of the 5-star rating above.
After that we return to the liturgy; the closing sections of Caldara’s ‘Missa dolorosa’ - ‘Sanctus’, a ‘Benedictus’ with an especially lovely initial Andante section, and ‘Agnus Dei’ - bring the programme to a very satisfying close. Recorded sound is excellent, as are the CD booklet notes. Altogether this is a great disc, full of very fine music and beautifully performed by Daniela Dolci and her musicians, and I would strongly recommend it to fans of this brilliant baroque composer.
As a footnote, I will just add that there are still numerous fine - and in some cases great - works by Caldara waiting to be recorded. In fact I would like to put in a special plea for a modern recording of his magnificent ‘Missa Sanctificationis Sancti Joannis Nepomuceni’, which was splendidly recorded under Vaclav Smetacek, on the Musica Sacra label, in the days of the vinyl disc but has never been available since then. How about it, Musica Fiorita?