The ensemble LA GIOIA ARMONICA was founded by Austrian dulcimer-player Margit Übellacker and German organist and singer Jürgen Banholzer. One of the ensemble's objectives is to explore the baroque repertoire for dulcimer, in particular in connection with the legendary pantaleon. The size of the group varies from dulcimer-organ duet to large chamber-music settings. Th e musicians are all specialised in historically-informed performance practices, and combine broad experience drawn from their involvement in various international ensembles. La Gioia Armonica's debut CD – Cantate, Sonate ed Arie, dedicated to music of Antonio Caldara – was also released by Ramée, and gained various awards, among which the Pizzicato Supersonic Award, Goldberg 5 Stars, and the Prelude Classical Award 2006 for best debut CD. Since then, the ensemble has been invited to perform in Germany and abroad, including at the Halle Händelfestspiele, the Dordrecht Bach Festival, the Middle-Germany Heinrich Schütz Days, the Bottrop Organ Plus Festival, and the Bad Homburg Fugato organ festival.
Countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic has emerged as a new star of the specialty partly through fearless programming, and this collection of Arie Napoletane, Neapolitan arias or arias from Naples, is no exception. There really isn't a "Neapolitan school." Rather, Naples was on the musical cutting edge in the second quarter of the 18th century, and the arias here represent both a classic opera seria style, in the pieces by the massively prolific Alessandro Scarlatti, and music by the composers who pointed the way toward the melodically simpler future of Gluck and eventually Mozart, like Leonardo Leo and Leonardo Vinci. These latter are hardly household names, and Cencic, offering several recorded premieres, renders a valuable service simply by finding and choosing the deliberate and sensuous arias heard here. Moreover, the album's stylistic contrasts play to Cencic's strengths.
This album, originally recorded in 1992, was remastered in 2008 and issued as part of the Heritage series of Jordi Savall's Alia Vox label in a nifty combination of reissue and improvement. The album certainly qualifies as one of the greatest hits of Savall (whose role here is as gambist, with a small ensemble of northern European players ) and his wife, soprano Montserrat Figueras, who is the star of the show. Figueras' vocals are as usual a central attraction, with their incredible combination of suppleness, accuracy over a wide range, expression, and Iberian gutsiness. But the program here, though somewhat removed from the Iberian core of the Figueras/Savall repertory, is equally compelling.