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 Recording of the Week  Exciting new baroque rediscovery - Conti's David

Florence is well known as the birthplace of opera, but rather less so as the birthplace of the composer Francesco Bartolomeo Conti who was born there in 1681. Conti was principal theorbist at the Habsburg court in Vienna and surviving works include operas and sacred works.

Alan Curtis
Alan Curtis

His dramatic oratorio called simply David is released today with a formidable cast under Alan Curtis on Virgin. Is is called a 'azione sacra' or sacred drama, but Conti’s extraordinary characterisation actually makes it sound more like an opera.

The work tells the story of David’s persecution by Saul, but written in 1723 it pre-dates Handel’s Saul by some 15 years. Furthermore, the powerful and highly original recitative makes it an important discovery in the early development of dramatic oratorio and baroque opera.

The tenor role of Saul in Conti’s work was taken by Francesco Borosini, who later sang for Handel in London and Alan Curtis speculates that Borosini may have shown the libretto to Handel. Certainly Handel, like Conti, includes the scene where David tries to calm Saul’s rage with a harp (in both works, David’s harp is represented by a theorbo), and Saul’s subsequent attempt to kill David with his javelin. Such comparisons were also made in Handel’s day.

The singing on this recording is fantastic with contralto Marijana Mijanovic on brilliant form. In fact all the singing is stunning with the operatic nature of the music thrust prominently to the fore. Alan Curtis’s own group Il Complesso Barocco throw themselves equally enthusiastically into the task and the overall result is one of those rare gems which I so love coming across.

Conti, F: David

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