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Brilliantly handled

'La Contadina' by Hasse

harmonia mundi    HMC 905244

Hasse: La Contadina (c) 1999 harmonia mundi


It gradually dawns on one why this briskly-moving intermezzo was such a hit with Neapolitan audiences of the l8th century when served up by Hasse -- one of those composers most admired by J.S.Bach -- when still in his late 20s.

La Contadina, first seen at the Teatro San Bartolomeo in Naples in 1728 as an entracte (in two parts) to the opera Clitarco (Cleitarchus), by Pietro Scarlatti, has some of the brilliantly-turned humour and enticing bizarreness of La Serva Padrona, the comic masterpiece by Pergolesi (to whom it was later commonly misattributed). The librettist is uncertain -- at least two candidates are mentioned in the sources -- but the sleeve notes draw attention to the wit of Molière and the scathingly satirical Louis Quatorze French comic tradition, to which it to some extent relates.

The soloists bear the brunt, and -- most crucially -- both Oddone (as the impish maidservant Scintilla) and Regazzo (as the pompous, self-satisfied, preposterous Don Tabarano) are superbly skilled, characterful dramatic performers. His timing is splendid, though best enjoyed if you follow what he's up to (full libretto is supplied, albeit in Harmonia Mundi's tiresome elongated typeface). Oddone is Argentinian born, Italian based, and has performed often with René Jacobs. Her bursts of coloratura have the odd fraying edge, and her tone colour at its best (later she comes into her own) is fabulously alluring. The sound as a whole -- with many audial comings and goings -- is brilliantly handled, and the cheerful spirit of the piece never lets up as this duo strut, fret, whinge and whimper at each other -- and us -- by hilarious turns.

The dancy finale of part I is a classic, and the couple's recitative exchanges in this closing scene and the first of part 2 anticipate all the nattiest qualities of Mozart's and Rossini's Figaros. The period instrument Ensemble Arcadia play splendidly and spiritedly for the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis-trained Atilio Cremonesi (it sounds as if they all trained there too; the lead violin playing is deft in the extreme). The timing and recording of the whole thing is brilliant, and stylish to boot.


Copyright © 17 January 2001 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK







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Record Box is Music & Vision's regular Wednesday series of shorter CD reviews