Recordings > Recital

Stéphanie Varnerin: "Cesarini Cantatas"

CD Button L’Astrée, Tabacco. Texts and translations. Aparte AP136

Recordings Cesarini Cantatas Cover 617
Critics Choice Button 1015 

THIS WORLD-PREMIERE recording of six solo vocal cantatas by Carlo Francesco Cesarini (1666–1741) brings to light attractive chamber music through stunning performances by soprano Stéphanie Varnerin and Giorgio Tabacco’s ensemble L’Astrée. Cesarini worked in Rome for Cardinal Pamphili, the enlightened cultural patron and Arcadian poet who also supported Corelli, Bononcini, Scarlatti and Handel. The cantata texts, typical amorous encounters and laments with mythological references galore, include a particularly fine Ariadne scene, and four are by the cardinal himself. 

Opening and closing the recital are two large-scale works that include violins, lending grandeur and gravity. Luscious continuo playing imparts a deep, warm sound to the opening sinfonia of La Gelosia, whose dense harmonic language provides a striking beginning to the disc. Throughout the recital Pietro Prosser’s sumptuous theorbo sound, Rebeca Ferri’s expressive cello lines and Tabacco’s dramatic harpsichord playing provide superb support to Varnerin’s sensitive, thoughtful delivery. The many recitatives are particularly well done, with a variety of textures and musical richness reflecting both the grammar and the drama of the text.

Each cantata features three arias, and Cesarini’s attractive writing ranges from lyrical to declamatory. The second aria in “Già gl’augelli canori” finds the abandoned and outraged Ariadne fuming, with shouts and leaps over an angry running bassline, then pulling back to admit, in limpid phrases, her enduring love for the traitor Theseus. “Penso di non mirar” begins with a rapturous delivery, although the narrator contemplates the sorrows of leaving and, in an expressive, harmonically unstable recitative, bids farewell to Rome, the Tiber and the beloved Chloris. 

Varnerin’s sweet, soft-edged voice maintains a lovely buoyancy, yet she brings verve and bite to more dramatic moments without driving or pressing the sound. The soprano uses straight tone occasionally for expressive effect, especially in the surprising blue notes of “O guardi o scherzi o rida.” The program booklet includes many errors of translation, but the engaging cantatas should interest singers and listeners looking for similar repertoire beyond Handel.  —Judith Malafronte 

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