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Barbara STROZZI (1619-1664)

L’Astratto (Voglio sì, vò cantar) (from op. 8) [09:08]
Non pavento io di te (from op. 6) [04:08]
Lamento: Appresso a i molli argenti (from op. 7) [11:04]
Lamento: Su’l Rodano severo (from op. 3) [12:05]
Luci belle (from op. 8) [05:47]
Moralità amorosa [03:45]
Judith Nelson, soprano; Christophe Coin, cello; John Hutchinson, triple harp; William Christie, harpsichord
Recorded in December 1982 at the Château de Sauvan, Mane, France ADD
HARMONIA MUNDI HMX 290114 [46:01]

This recording was first released in 1982. I assume it must have been one of the very first entirely devoted to the music of Barbara Strozzi. It was followed by others, and right now Strozzi's music is well represented in the catalogue.

It seems quite a number of musicians are fascinated by Barbara Strozzi. Would her music have been paid so much attention to if it had been written by a man? One can only guess but I feel the answer is 'yes'. Strozzi's music is of a high standard, and can easily compete with most music by male contemporaries. Her compositions excellently display the most striking features of the style of the early 17th century in Italy.

There is a lot of variety and contrast between and within the cantatas on this disc. But they all share a strong connection between text and music. Some words are underlined by the use of melismas or by leaps upwards and downwards. Dissonance and chromaticism are frequently used to illustrate words like 'tormento', 'morte' and 'lamenti'.

Some cantatas are very dramatic. One of the best examples is the 'Lamento: Su'l Rodano severo', which isn't about (unrequited) love, as most others are, but about the execution, in 1642, of the courtier Henri de Cinq Mars, under the authority of Louis XIII, for his participation in a plot against Richelieu. There are some similarities here with Carissimi's famous 'Lamento in morte di Maria Stuarda'. In this cantata the courtier himself is speaking, introduced by a narrator, who also concludes the piece. The closing line "Paris trembles and the Seine grows agitated" is underpinned by a fast repetition of one chord in the basso continuo.

Another example of Strozzi's dramatic style of composition is the first item on this disc, 'L'Astratto'. This cantata is about the power of singing to dispel the pain of unrequited love. The lover several times starts singing an aria, only to stop midway when he is overcome by his emotions and switches to a recitative. The alternation between recitative, arioso and aria is one of the most striking aspects of Barbara Strozzi's cantatas anyway.

It is a good thing this recording is available again. Although I could imagine a little more contrast here and there, on the whole this performance is still well worth listening to. Judith Nelson's voice has the flexibility this music requires, and her diction is admirable. She gets excellent support from the basso continuo, part of which is a triple harp which is used to great effect, especially in the more reflective passages.

This reissue fortunately contains the lyrics, as well as informative liner notes. Strongly recommended.

Johan van Veen

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