BBC Music Magazine
Maddalena à piedi di Cristo
Le Banquet Céleste/damien Guillon Alpha Classics ALPHA 426
125:26 mins (2 discs)
Caldara’s oratorio Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo retells the Biblical account of Mary Magdalene’s anguish at the foot of the Cross
– a work of emotional extremes,
poignant and rapturous music. When the impressionable young Handel met Caldara in Rome, he may well have been inspired by his liquid melodies, subtle orchestral colours and heightened sense of drama – skills which marked the Italian out as the most famous oratorio composer of his day. René Jacobs’s memorable 1996 recording of this work is a hard act to follow, but the score leaves plenty of scope for interpretation, and Jacobs by no means has the last word.
Librettist Lodovico Forni adds to the biblical story the characters of Celestial and Earthly Love, who vie for the Magdalene’s soul – a literary intervention that allows Caldara to paint her vacillating passions with music by turns sensuous and sublime. From the agitated opening to the radiant ending, this crack period ensemble offers keenly responsive playing: here alert and furious, there limpid and vaporous.
The six soloists are sensitively cast: Emmanuelle de Negri is aptly intense as the ‘repentant sinner’ – her soprano ardent and tremulous; the paler, straighter-toned soprano of Maïlys de Villoutreys (Martha) makes the perfect foil. Benedetta Mazzucato’s contralto is plummy and full-bodied as Earthly Love, while the more androgynous tones of countertenor Damien Guillon (also the ensemble’s director) suggest more angelic realms. Reinoud van Mechelen’s velvety tenor assuages as Christ, and Riccardo Novaro’s baritone is suitably resolute for the Pharisee. The recording is intimate and detailed. Kate Bolton-porciatti