In Rome at the end of the 17th century the Italian secular solo cantata was all the rage and Alessandro Scarlatti was its king. While knowledgeable classical music buffs know of Scarlatti, his music is not widely known, and the man who stood at the top of the heap in Italian music when Johann Sebastian Bach, Handel, and Georg Philipp Telemann were all just getting started remains best known as being the father of Domenico Scarlatti. There have been numerous recordings of the elder Scarlatti's works, but when potential hits number in the hundreds and it's been hundreds of years since anyone has heard these pieces, it's hard to know what the hits might be. Tempesta di Mare Chamber Players and soprano Clara Rottsolk give it the old college try on the Chandos Chaconne release Alessandro Scarlatti: Cantatas and Chamber Music. They perform four cantatas that range chronologically from Bella dama di nome Santa, which dates to about 1700 or before, and the Pastoral cantata Non sò qual piú m'ingombra, which dates to 1716. In addition to that, one of Scarlatti's chamber concertos is included as well.
One standout attribute of this program is unfamiliarity; while it is pleasant, Scarlatti carves out his own historical territory and references to things even a well-informed 21st century listener might know about the late middle-early late Baroque are few indeed. The concerto is not Corellian, though it bears a vague resemblance to the sound of some of Handel's instrumental suites of a later vintage without using quite so many movements. The band plays in a relaxed, easygoing style that works well for this music; this was not written to dazzle visiting dignitaries as so much of Vivaldi's music was, but to provide relaxation for nobles and clergy as a kind of informal entertainment. Clara Rottsolk, a soprano singing parts mostly written for male altos, does a fine job overall, though she does run into some trouble in the treacherous vocal writing in the aria "Quel vento que intorno" from the cantata Bella, s'io t'amo. Among the cantatas one will note some hair-raising harmonic ideas that show Alessandro Scarlatti, like his son, was also possessed with a taste for odd and innovative gestures, though they are of a very different kind from Domenico's wayward part-writing and crunchy, near-cluster chords.
Overall, Alessandro Scarlatti: Cantatas and Chamber Music is an enjoyable listening experience and a decent introduction to the elder Scarlatti's gigantic cantata output, which runs to some 785 works. Whether the active repertoire will find room for him is another matter; our priorities in terms of the Baroque have managed to evolve in a particular way without him, and although he belongs in the canon, it is hard to say how long it will be before we can find a "hit" of the kind that will give his name more prominence. While all of these pieces are enjoyable, none of them jump out at you and command your attention.