Naples cpo 5553152

Marvels of the 18th Century in Naples
Domenico Sarro (1679-1744)

Achille in Sciro, Sinfonia dall’Opera (1737)
Filippo Colle (18th century)
Violin Concerto in C major
Federigo Fiorillo (1755-1823)
Violin Concerto No. 2 in B flat major
Gennaro Manna (1715-1779)
Sinfonia in E flat major
Fabrizio Falasca (violin)
La Real Cappella di Napoli/Ivano Caiazza
rec. 2016, Teatro San Carlo, Naples
cpo 555315-2 [73]

cpo sets a high bar with the title of this recording; novelties might have been a better term, as only the Sarro has been recorded before. The eighteenth century in Naples was a golden age for the arts, especially in opera, with some of the better-known (now) names being Cimarosa, Paisiello, Pergolesi, and for the first quarter, Alessandro Scarlatti. Despite that, cpo have opted to demonstrate the “marvels” with four composers who have very low profiles now. One – Fiorillo – was not born in Naples, his connection is through his father; the booklet notes try hard, if not very convincingly, to link him with the city.

Domenico Sarro’s opera Achille in Sciro was performed at the opening of the Teatro di San Carlo, an opera house still renowned today. His Sinfonia, an overture by any other name, sets the tone for the disc in that it is pleasant, but not inspired, and fails to clear the bar labelled “marvel”. It is not alone in that regard.

Little is known about Filippo Colle, save that he lived in the 18th century, and worked in Naples. His violin concerto is at its best in the slow movement, which is possibly the best music on the disc. The first movement is too long at almost eleven minutes, and the writing in the finale is rather uninspired.

Federigo Fiorillo was born in Germany, as his father, a Naples native, was the opera director in Braunschweig. According to the booklet, Federigo is apparently known by violinists for his Caprices (though Presto only lists one recording of them). In this second concerto, he is trying very hard to be Mozart, and, as you will have no trouble believing, not succeeding (I am assuming that this work was written after Mozart’s violin concertos, all done by 1775). The first movement goes on and on – over fifteen minutes – and I’d long since stopped paying attention by the time it finished. The slow movement is better (and shorter), but much of the Rondo finale is spent with writing for the violin that is perhaps better to play than to hear. On the Wikipedia page listing the composers associated with the 18th century Neapolitan School, Fiorillo’s name is absent (his father’s is there);

Gennaro Manna would seem to have spent his entire life in Naples. While his Sinfonia has no date, it has elements of both Baroque and Classical/Galant eras. Three of the four movements are marked Vivace, which seems rather unbalanced, and the third, which is described in the notes as a Minuet, is played here closer to Andante, which at least provides contrast. As with most of the music on the disc, it is pleasant, but little more.

Performances by both soloist and orchestra are good, though there were times where I felt that a little more energy and verve would have helped the music. The sound is clear, but not especially detailed. The booklet notes are typical of the label; quite comprehensive, but prone to overstatement (starting with the title) and strange, unidiomatic English. I find the latter hard to understand: surely the label can find a translator able to produce a better English sentence than “The Sinfonia in E flat major finely illustrates the compositional traits of this musical author”. Rather surprisingly, the notes in German have a different author to those in English (which are a translation from Italian, as written by the recording’s conductor).

This is an enterprising release from an always-enterprising label, but I do wonder whether those responsible for scheduling releases at cpo may have not been entirely convinced, given it has sat on their “shelves” for almost seven years (admittedly this is not uncommon with cpo). Certainly there are some good moments, but are there any marvels? Quite definitely not.

David Barker

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