GRAMOPHONE (UK) november 2015
A vast amount of interesting music by Alessandro Stradella (1639-82) remains unpublished, scarcely performed and unrecorded, but times could be gradually changing. This premiere recording of San Giovanni Cristostomo is the second instalment in the Stradella Project spearheaded by Andrea De Carlo and his Ensemble Mare Nostrum, in conjunction with the annual festival held in the composer’s birthplace Nepi (a small town in the Lazio hills). The manuscript score was already in the Estense library in Modena by 1680, but it may have been first performed in Rome during the papacy of Innocent XI (elected in 1676). The libretto concerns the opposition of St John Chrysostom (the early fifth-century Archbishop of Constantinople) to the idolatrous and vain empress Eudoxia (who wishes to erect a statue to herself). Unable to tolerate the humble call to penitence from the holy man, she banishes him to a remote village in Armenia. Scored for five voices and basso continuo accompaniment, the performance offers semi-dramatic characterisations of the proud empress Eudoxia by the assertive and brightly-toned Arianna Vendittelli, whereas the dignity, modesty and firmness of the saintly title-character is conveyed sagely by Matteo Bellotto while having to navigate some deceptively fiendish music. Filippo Mineccia is boldly direct as a Roman envoy who attempts futilely to reason that Eudoxia should not punish an innocent man. Luca Cervoni sounds a little bit stretched as the sycophantic patriarch of Alexandria. Occasional short duets, a trio and a brief madrigalian chorus provide moments of attractive contrapuntal contrast. The seven continuo instrumentalists of Ensemble Mare Nostrum are organised to discreetly exploit a range of textures without any hint of routine complacency, and proceedings are directed with subtle rhythmic vitality by De Carlo. I look forward optimistically to how the Stradella Project might develop over the next few years.