Pasquini’s Passion For Four

Review by: David Vernier


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Here’s a delicious taste of Baroque sacred drama from a composer that few people know, but whose take on the passion oratorio will surprise and please any listener who enjoys late-17th century music for voices and instruments. Italian composer Bernardo Pasquini (1637-1710) may have been overshadowed by both contemporaries and immediate followers, but his passion-oratorio from 1689, for four solo vocalists and chamber-sized orchestra is a truly inventive and captivating work that deserves recognition. (And incidentally, for those who insist that Bach wrote his oratorios for only one voice to a part, just listen to this music: Here is what intentionally one-to-a-part music by a fine composer sounds like.)

The title, La sete di Christo (The Thirst of Christ), makes clear that Pasquini’s consideration of Christ’s passion is uniquely focused on one aspect, one moment of the event, when Christ utters the words “I thirst” (“Sitio!”). Pasquini and his librettist (Nicolò Minato) draw us into the scene not from some lofty observation post, but literally from the ground, sharing a place at the foot of the cross with four significant observers–Mary, mother of Jesus, John the disciple, Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus–and listening in on their discourse, at once philosophical and full of human impulse and emotion.

The dialogue moves swiftly–the whole piece, made up of arias, accompanied recits, duos, and trios–takes a little more than an hour; an instrumental “sinfonia” introduces each of the work’s two parts. Instrumentation consists of string quartet plus violone, bassoon, archlute, theorbo, harpsichord, and organ; vocal parts are for four singers/characters: La Vergine (soprano); San Giovanni (tenor); Giuseppe d’Arimathea (tenor); Nicodemo/Christo (baritone). In the entire oratorio only one word is uttered by Christ, at the very beginning of Part 2: “Sitio!”–and this, as the notes point out, is significant in its use of Latin (the rest of the text is in Italian) and is sung unaccompanied.

The singers are all very fine, especially tenor Luca Cervoni (Joseph of Arimathea) and soprano Francesca Aspromonte (the Virgin Mary). Cervoni gets two of the three longer arias (Aspromonte sings the other), and his “Sospira e lagrima” (So sigh and weep…) is particularly beautiful; so is his duet with Aspromonte near the work’s end, “Figlio, Signor…” (Son, Lord…). The music itself shows an affinity for tuneful, inventive, and often evocative vocal writing joined to judicious, colorful instrumental accompaniment.

There are also many harmonic surprises that show Pasquini’s proclivity for emphasizing particular words or to bring a scene to life–a good example of the latter being Nicodemus’ description of the “trembling of the sea, the horror of the sky…”, every bit as affecting as Handel’s shaking the heavens and the earth in his Messiah many decades later. In fact, there are numerous passages throughout that remind us of the work of composers who followed Pasquini (including some expertly crafted duets and trios). This may not qualify as a great Baroque masterpiece, but it is masterfully done, the music so agreeably written that it flows effortlessly by without a dull or wasted moment; and the performances and recording are caringly and skillfully done, giving us every reason to come back for more.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

  • Francesca Aspromonte (soprano); Francisco Fernández-Rueda, Luca Cervoni (tenor); Mauro Borgioni (baritone)
  • Concerto Romano, Alessandro Quarta

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