Sedecia. Alessandro Scarlatti
Edited from Musicweb International
Scarlatti's oratorio Sedecia re di Gerusalemme, written in Rome in 1706, tells the tragic story of the Judaean king Zedekiah (Sedecia) and his defeat and punishment at the hands of the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar (Nabucco). This is the first recording of this work.
This oratorio begins with a rousing Sinfonia, a brief, energetic piece, that sets the tone for the work. The sound that comes across is immediately compelling; the ensemble is small, being a total of only 17 musicians, and, with just five singers, this work is more intimate than an opera - it sounds closer to a cantata. The instruments all stand out extremely well, with a very "baroque" sound to them, although the reverb is a bit too strong.
The energy remains in the first aria - this is a fast-paced work, and the first three arias maintain this rhythm. It only slows down when Ismaela sings his first aria, Se il generoso cor, a moving piece with a subtle orchestral accompaniment. Philippe Jaroussky's soprano voice is incredibly feminine; it is ethereal - a liquid voice that sounds as though it is flowing over the orchestra. It is a true joy to listen to him sing; this aria changes the tone from fast and male to slow and female.
Virginie Pochon's voice sounds almost exactly like Philippe Jaroussky's. In fact, on first listening to this recording, I easily confused the two. This is a bit of a problem, since one needs to be able to distinguish the different voices in a work like this. Pochon uses a bit more vibrato, and overdoes it in the final aria of part 1 - I had to skip this aria; her voice is too much, too forceful, it sounds too much like Verdi. They sing a beautiful duet together, Caro figlio, a moving piece with obbligato flute.
Gérard Lesne is excellent in this work. He stands out especially in the aria Capri, o sol, l'aurato manto, a poignant song with two cellos in the background, and Gite pur, che assai vedeste, another memorable aria.
Peter Harvey, as Nabucco, is strong and powerful. His voice rings out with great force in the aria Contro te di sdegno armato, with horns ringing out in the background, a marital piece whose tone fits the text perfectly - Nabucco is approaching the walls of Israel in plans of attacking.
Mark Padmore is a fine tenor, who, as Nadabbe, has few solo pieces, but sings them very well. He opens the work, singing the first recitative and aria, then is silent for a while, returning with a beautiful aria, Vado, e il nome altero, over a minimalist cello background.
The structure of this work can get a bit boring, however. With the exception of the opening sinfonia, and another brief (0.50) sinfonia (which is more of a fanfare) in the first part, after a half-dozen arias, the entire work is recitative-aria-recitative-aria until the end. There are a few duets, but not enough "music" to lighten the tone. It comes across as a collection of arias; almost as if it were a recital disk with five singers.
Nevertheless, the music is beautiful and the performances excellent. The extremely high quality of the instrumentalists - often neglected in this type of work - adds much to the recording, as do the fine voices of the soloists.
This recording contains some fine music and excellent performances, but the work itself lacks overall unity, sounding more like a collection of arias than a coherent work. Nevertheless, these are indeed beautiful arias in the true Italian style. If you like this type of music, you cannot go wrong here.
International Record Review
In his ground-breaking 1905 biography of Alessandro Scarlatti, Edward Dent pronounced the oratorio Sedecia, re di Gerusalemme a tedious work, and was quite at a loss to explain its contemporary popularity.
Dent's damning judgement has dogged the piece ever since, and despite a flurry of interest in the 1960s it has taken until now for it to be revived in its entirety. Il Seminario Musicale first tested the water with performances at the Ambronay and Royaumont Festivals in the summer of 1999: encouraged by the results, they lost no time in taking Sedecia into the studio. This première recording proves Dent's judgement seriously flawed, though if he'd heard it he would surely have come to very different conclusions. Sedecia may not be quite the masterpiece the booklet note writer (and editor of the score) claims, but it is a dramatically compelling work, at least the equal of the magnificent Il primo omicidio, so successfully revived by Rene Jacobs and Harmonia Mundi in 1998.
As a genre, Scarlatti's oratorios fared rather poorly in the early-music revival of the last century. Although we can confidently attribute around 30 works to him – making him the most significant composer between Carissimi and Handel – only five scores have so far been published. This new recording is clearly an important event and it is satisfying to be able to recommend it unreservedly. Unlike Handel's English oratorios, Sedecia was written for performance in a religious setting, probably at the Oratorio dei Filippini in Rome around 1706. It's a good 45 minutes shorter than Il primo omicidio (1707), but no less substantial as a drama.
Limiting himself to just five main characters, the librettist tells the tragic tale of Zedekiah, the last King of Jerusalem, who set his face against God's will and therefore suffered the death of his sons and his own blindness at the hands of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. Divided into two halves, the first is full of bravura and battle (the War of the Spanish Succession briefly threatened Rome at this time); the second part is more thoughtful, moving inexorably towards its heart-rending conclusion. With a plot which is more political than religious, and some exceptionally vivid characters, Sedecia feels much more like opera than oratorio, an impression reflected by the scorching, larger-than-life performances of the soloists. Gerard Lesne excels as Sedecia, making so much of his swaggering opening aria that you feel it belongs in one of those 'favourite Baroque aria' collections. His son, Ismaele, is skilfully sung by the sensational treble ('sopraniste') Philippe Jaroussky, and Peter Harvey is rich and powerful as the King of Babylon. Scarlatti's inspiration was running high when he penned this score: I was particularly struck by the gorgeous, ever-so-subtle accompaniments reflecting the emerging Roman concerto grosso.