Alessandro Stradella (1644-82) is a mid 17th century Roman composer (born in the Province of Viterbo, Lazio) (north of Rome) of great inventiveness and beautiful melodic/counterpuntal writing. His voice lines often exchange motives with the bass line in a real expressive dialogue. His vocal style in this work expresses strong emotional feelings, perfect for the theme of this Roman oratorio on the beheading of St. John the Baptist, which is well sung by the French counter-tenor Gérard Lesne. The long melodic lines and chromaticism of this work are very advanced. The feeling is one of a cantata-like opera, where the music and poetry are on an intimate scale. The Aria Concerto Grosso "Sorde dive, ch'ai mortali" sung gloriously by Catherine Bott (soprano) as Salome, is a sublime masterpiece in minature, an example of florid style, presaging even the mid 19th century Romantic coloratura arias of Donizetti, just to give an example of how advanced his writing is. The work is full of vitality and deep emotionalism. Purcell was influenced by it in his writing of the Fairy Queen. This disc won the Gramophone Early Vocal Music Award in 1993, and is/was also available on a budget priced edition on the Elatus label with translations but without the sung Italian text.
I was lucky enought to hear parts of this work on the radio and was so smitten that I bought the CD - despite never having heard of this composer before - what a discovery!
It has not disappointed! A wonderful piece of music, splendidly performed. The tunes are simply wonderful and the soloists shine. Catherine Bott (as Salome) and Richard Edgar-Wilson have some fine arias - just for example.
This deserves to be much better-known, and not because of Stradella's scandalous life (he was murdered in 1682 by thugs because of being amorously involved with a nobleman's mistress who he was meant to be teaching). It is a brilliantly colourful and dramatic work, telling the lurid story of the death of John the Baptist in a series of deliciously tuneful arias, with a few ensembles. The Baptist is sung by a counter-tenor (Lesne) and has some meltingly beautiful arias. This CD won a Gramophone award in 1993 most deservedly, and anyone who has any liking for Baroque music should have it: for pure pleasure!