Annalisa Massarotto (soprano), Ernesta Pontarolo (soprano), Sabrina Simioni (mezzo-soprano), Monica Sesto (contralto), Ferruccio Basei (tenor), Gerardo Pessetto (tenor) & Claudio Sartorato (bass & musical direction)
Agostino Steffani (1654–1728) was one of the greatest composers of Italian vocal music between Monteverdi and Handel. Working mainly in Munich and Hanover, he wrote sacred works, operas and vocal chamber music. He raised the standing of opera in northern Europe, and by grafting the French style on to his native Italian stock created a musical language for the later Baroque. That Steffani’s output consists entirely of vocal works reflects his early musical education. Born at Castelfranco Veneto, he became a choirboy at the Basilica del Santo in Padua and at the age of 11 sang in opera in Venice.
His experience as a singer and flair for languages explain his sensitivity to words and instinct for melody as a composer. Steffani is reliably credited with only seven solo cantatas, dating probably from his Munich period. The two solo cantatas on this CD illustrate, among other things, the nature of the ‘aria cavata’, a short or informal aria based on a line or couplet of verse that was meant to be set as recitative. Of the chamber duets, Crudo Amor, morir mi sento (1698), is a consummate example of Steffani’s mature style, with opening and closing duets framing solos for each singer in turn.
The duet movements are characterised by what one writer called ‘smoothly finished counterpoint…which even Handel could only imitate but not surpass’.