The intricate web of despair

Saturday 20 April 2019

Evangelii gaudium – The Joy of the Gospel
– was the title of Pope Francis’ first apostolic exhortation. Yes, the Gospel is joy, the Good News. But what if the Apostles are devastated? When the celebrants, dressed in red, lie prostrate before an empty altar? When He who was crucified also for us suffered and was buried? What if the third day is so far away? What then? Tears – ordinary, human, salty tears. They must flow – such is the time.

This sadness of the Apostles is recalled by the Ambrosian Lenten hymn “Tristes erant Apostoli”. Among many other artists, it was put to music by Antonio Nola, whose almost completely unknown music was brought to us on Good Friday at the ICE Kraków Congress Centre (nota bene: in a world premiere!) by Antonio Florio, Director in Residence of this year’s Misteria Paschalia Festival, together with his instrumentalists from the Cappella Neapolitana ensemble and a quintet of solo singers.

We do not know much about this early Baroque representative of the Neapolitan school of music. Born in 1642, he graduated from the Conservatorio della Pietà dei Turchini – one of four operating at the time in the capital of Campania. He worked as an organist in the local cathedral and as a copyist in the Oratorio dei Girolamini, where at least 150 of his manuscripts are kept to this day. Thus, there was no way that Florio, an outstanding scholar of the Neapolitan musical Baroque, could not reach for this work (not least because of the original name of his ensemble: Cappella della Pietà de’ Turchini, referring to the old conservatory), especially given his ally, the musicologist Hanns-Bertold Dietz.

These are pieces that should certainly not be forgotten: they are characterised by excellent compositional technique, full of melodic inventiveness and emotionality. First of all, let us mention Nola’s most famous composition, that intricate web of despair, Stabat Mater. Its expressive, rhetoric and polyphonic qualities were fully brought to the fore by the soloists: the technically and expressively flawless Krakow soprano Anna Zawisza, and the Italians Marta Fumagalli – alto, Alessio Tosi – tenor, and Giuseppe Naviglio – baritone. We could also admire Tosi’s strong, clear voice in the extended, ornamental composition Homo et Angelus, a kind of mini-morality play in which a human soul is torn between the doubt of death and the hope of salvation. In turn, the “angelic” part was performed by Leslie Visco, endowed with a rich and noble soprano. The whole was complemented by further compositions by Nola: the joyful “Ecce nunc benedicite” and “Sacramento laudes”, as well as Pietro Marchitelli’s Concerto grosso no. 11 in A minor with the beautiful, mournful “Adagio” in Movement III. For those who did not manage to get to ICE Kraków (or did not watch the concert on Mezzo TV), there will soon be a rebroadcast of Polish Radio Two.

And today, the singer and actor Pino de Vittorio and the Laboratorio ‘600 group will lead us into the world of traditional songs about the Passion of Christ, which have been written since the Middle Ages. This time, join us at St Kinga’s Chapel at the “Wieliczka” Salt Mine at 8 p.m.

Monika Partyk