Caldara: Requiem / Daniela Dolci, Musica Fiorita

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CALDARA Requiem. Trio Sonata in e. Cello Sonata in A. Missa dolorosa: Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus dei Daniela Dolci, cond; Musica Fiorita PAN 10296 (64:34 Text and Translation) (voices and period instruments)

When I heard the opening movement of this work, I almost fell off my chair, so similar was it to the iconic Mozart Requiem. Of course, this work, composed 70 years earlier, remains within the realm of soft suspensions, and it does not have the depth or power of the Mozart (as one would have expected), but that momentary piece of déja vu was enough to wonder whether Mozart, in his official (but poorly paid) position of Hofkapellmeister—after all he was appointed Gluck’s successor—had somehow come across the manuscript score of the Caldara, one of his predecessors. All speculation aside, the truth of the matter is that history shrouds both this Requiem and its purpose. To be sure, it is a Mass for the Dead, but whether it was written for the annual All Souls Day celebrations or for some noble patron remains unknown. The sole surviving manuscript was found in the library of the Clementinum College in Prague, and since Caldara had gone there in 1723 for the coronation of Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI as King of Bohemia, perhaps it may have been a commission especially for his Jesuit friends.

The work, here receiving its premiere, is textually incomplete, although the manuscript appears to be intact (according to one of my sources in Prague). It lacks the final movements from the offertory to the Agnus Dei, causing the writer of the notes to postulate that this was either sung to plainchant or the work had a more diverse performance history in which various movements were extracted for other occasions. To fill out the disc, The Musica Fiorita ensemble has chosen to interpolate the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei from the Missa dolorosa from 1735, presumably because a dolorous Mass would have an acceptable tone and style. Moreover, since even this is too short, a couple of sonatas, one for two violins and the other for cello, have been included. This is probably not justifiable, but since they are done with taste and elegance, I have no quibble with their inclusion.

The torso of the Requiem is really quite interesting. The entire first section, from the Introit to the Kyrie, is a series of gentle movements that seem to flow seamlessly into each other, with the suspensions emerging subtly with the voices. Caldara uses a darker sounding string body, mainly consisting of violas whose registers match the close harmonies. In the Kyrie, one might expect a fugue or at least some more expansive counterpoint, but here Caldara chooses more solemn homophonic chords. The softly-rocking Christe duet thus appears more active with imitative phrases passed back and forth between the solo voices. One might also expect a more powerful Dies irae, but even here Caldara draws back from overt text painting. Instead, each downbeat has a quick hammer stroke that emphasizes the ostinato pattern, and rather than an apocalyptic chorus, a lone soprano plaintively outlines the day of judgment. So the Quantus termor does have a wavering chorus, and he does have a pair of trumpets appear at the Tuba mirum , with a nice series of rising triads evoking the resurrection contrasting with a voice that includes some of the only melismatic lines in the work. Only in the Judex ergo does the composer insert some real counterpoint in a slowly unfolding fugue. In the Confutatis the strings rush about as if in complete confusion, abruptly breaking off with softer imitative lines of the Voca me . As one might expect, the Sequence concludes with a rather short but complex fugue.

The performance by the Musica Fiorita is excellent, with the exception of the two trumpets, which sound like they are pitched just a tad too flat for the rest of the ensemble, with the result that they sound often out of tune. In an age where brass playing on these instruments has been revived to a high art, surely conductor Daniela Dolci could have found players that would have done these rather simple parts justice, as they are crucial though limited. The decision to use members of the chorus as the soloists is a good one, and I find that the blend achieves a nice balance. The tempos are at the right speed, neither too lugubrious nor too swift, and the phrasing brings out many of the subtle nuances to be found in this work. Of course, both sonatas and the Mass excerpts are done equally well. Given the plethora of Requiems out there that have still not been revived, I would venture to guess that this work will not receive another recording soon. This one, however, is eminently suitable and will make a fine addition to the collection, even with the recalcitrant brass.

FANFARE: Bertil van Boer

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: PC10296

  • UPC: 7619990102965

  • Label: Pan Classics

  • Composer: Antonio Caldara

  • Conductor: Daniela Dolci

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Musica Fiorita