Four sensuous settings of the Marian antiphon by a trio of Neapolitan masters, sung with native affinity by a young Italian soprano, and including a pair of world-premiere recordings.
The four Salve Regina recordings presented on this uniquely compiled new album cross the boundary between opera house and church – a boundary that in 18th-century Naples was never very forbidding to begin with. In fact Leo, Pergolesi and Porpora are all fine examples of composers who moved with unselfconscious facility between sacred and secular genres, between old counterpoint and the Monteverdian stile concertato that caressed each word with sensuous melismas and velvet harmonies.
Porpora was a noted singing teacher of his day, intimately familiar with everything that a voice can do, and possessing a melodic skill that spins long and ornate vocal phrases of almost instrumental effect. The Salve Regina by Pergolesi presented here is in G minor, and is a different work to his much more familiar settings of the text in F major and A minor, with a grave and restrained vocal line that evokes a meditative aura far removed from Porpora’s fireworks.
Extreme versions of these contrasting tendencies also characterise the two settings by Leonardo Leo. The F major Salve Regina is bright and extrovert, only darkening for a minor-key setting of ‘Ad te suspiramus’, with an agile vocal line full of operatic flourishes. In the C minor Salve Regina, however, Leo evokes a mood of intense lamentation with a style so restrained that it would seem almost archaic were it not for the expressive harmonies not so distant from Pergolesi’s world.
Federica Napoletani studied piano and singing at the conservatoire in Parma before joining Luisa Castellani’s class for a Masters at the Conservatorio della Svizzera italiana in Lugano. She specialises in new and early music and has performed with many distinguished early-music groups including Vox Altera, Odhecaton and Ensemble Imaginaire. The album is accompanied by an illuminating booklet essay authored by the director of Ensemble Imaginaire, Cristina Corrieri.
During the period of the Baroque the city of Naples was undoubtedly the musical capital of Europe. As part of the Bourbon kingdom its reputation passed its boundaries, and musicians from all countries joined in the cultural melting pot.
Most of the Neapolitan composers were producing both instrumental and sacred music, each influencing the other. The sacred style, initially based on the counterpoints of Palestrina, imbibed elements from the Opera: dramatic musical gestures and expressive melodic arias.
This new recording presents settings of the Salve Regina, a well known Maria Hymn, by composers Nicola Porpora, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi and Leonardo Leo, music from the transition from Baroque to Galante Style.
Sung by soprano Federica Napoletani and the Ensemble Imaginaire, led by Cristina Corrieri.