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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger


A disc devoted to Marian worship of the seventeenth century inevitably evokes the Annuciation of Fra Angelico or the Madonna and Child of Raphael. In its intensity and in its exploration of themes surrounding the Virgin Mary composers of the time confronted the mysteries of the Rosary – as, specifically, did Biber of course in his Mystery Sonatas – in ways which evince profoundly expressive responses. Many of the composers in this exemplary disc demonstrate just such an emotive kinship and the results are consistently persuasive.

Monteverdi’s Salve, o regina, the work that gives its name to the disc’s title, is just such a piece; it bears some relation with the operatic vocal writing of Orfeo but added to it is a stark and in many ways unyieldingly passionate, melismatic expression that takes it far beyond the merely gestural or conventional. Its compression of utterance adds greatly to the feeling of monumental feeling. Merula’s Hor ch’e il tempo di dormire is no less weighty but its means differ; over a ground bass we witness the powerful unfolding of the Virgin’s consoling grief – a steady, incremental, hypnotic build up of tension in which Claudine Ansermet, splendidly supported by Paolo Cherici, dares dynamic variance to greatly beneficial effect. In Legrenzi’s Congratulamini Filiae Sion we hear another kind of expression – heart-leapingly affirmative warmth with apposite vivacity.

Sebastiano Cherici’s Mortales Plaudite impresses with its strong lyric centre and melodic distinction; Ansermet’s runs here are finely sustained and very accurate. Kapsberger is represented by several pieces and not least by Ave sanctissima Maria which is warmly enunciated. Interspersed throughout are purely instrumental pieces and Kapsberger’s Toccatas emerge as amongst the most impressive of all – IV is nobly constructed and richly sustained throughout its length; like his soprano partner Paolo Cherici is not afraid to venture some bold dynamics. Hers in fact is a voice very well suited to this repertoire; it sounds just right for Sances for instance – his powerful lament, with its trills and melismas hardly daunts Ansermet’s technical armoury.

The recorded sound is very sympathetic and the booklet notes are both informative and attractive in themselves. This is poised and attractive music-making that treats texts with respect and brings them to life with real acumen and colour.

Jonathan Woolf



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August 2022

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