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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

Anne Sofie von Otter
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Hercules (1745): Where shall I fly? (5:24), Giulio Cesare in Egitto (1724): E pur così … Piangerò la sorte mia (6:23)
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Scherzi musicali (1607): O rosetta che rosetta (1:48), La violetta (3:06), Arianna (1608): Lasciate mi morire (3:47)
Johan Helmich ROMAN (1694-1758)
Then Svenska Messan (1752): O Herre Gud Gudds Lamb (3:28)
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Trauer-Music eines kunsterfahrenen Canarienvogels (1737) (15:07)
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Semele (1744): Where’er you walk (4:03)
Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano), Drottingholm Baroque Ensemble
Recorded 28th February-March 2nd 1983 at Sa Gertrud Church, Stockholm
PROPRIUS PRCD 9008 [46:45]


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These items are taken from Anne Sofie von Otter’s first solo recording. 

We know and generally love Anne Sofie von Otter for her bright, highish mezzo, with its lustrous sheen still today virtually unscratched by twenty years of career. Considering that voices usually darken and deepen with time, it is interesting to find her sounding much more like a contralto here than she does today. 

This, I think, is more a question of her chosen style of voice production at the time. Evidently she was taking baroque-style singing very seriously, with that slightly nasal sound, often little different from a high male alto, which has been offered more recently by, for example, Sara Mingardo. On the whole, I think Mingardo exerts a greater fascination within her chosen style, but had Anne Sofie von Otter continued in this way, who knows what she might have become? All the same, on the whole I am glad she developed the way she did. 

However, if you leave aside the Anne Sofie von Otter aspect, there is no doubt that you have here an excellent selection of more and less well-known baroque music, sung by a musicianly and technically well-equipped singer thoroughly at home in the style and accompanied by a delicious-toned ensemble of original instruments. Handel’s great aria from Giulio Cesare is plangently expressive with some daringly effective embellishments at the reprise; Monteverdi’s famous lament from “Arianna” is contrasted with two delightful little “scherzi”. It is a little odd to hear a female voice singing “Where’er you walk”, though perhaps less so than having it sung by a classroom full of boys, which is what some of us had to do in our early youth. The performance is tenderly restrained. 

Turning to the less well-known pieces, the item from the Swedish composer Roman’s 1752 Mass is charming, while Telemann’s “Funeral Music for an Artistic Canary” is a puzzler. In the course of five movements the canary is mourned in high-flown language, giving way to a furious condemnation of the cat that did the job, which is lastly cursed in low German. All set to music with the same high seriousness that might have been applied to Hercules, Cleopatra, Ariadne, or any other classical figure. The supposition is that Telemann wished to parody the apparatus of the classical cantata, but the point of a parody is that it should gradually become more and more hilarious by its exaggeration of the more disputable points of the object of its wit (as in the “play-within-the-play” in Hamlet). The real thing (in this case a worthy, well-composed piece somewhat short of Telemann’s best) does not work as a parody. Bertil Marcusson’s note suggests that the message is that “We human beings are remarkably similar in our passions” … There does not “seem to be much of a gap between the grief and wrath of the owner of the canary and the passionate transports of Cleopatra”. I did just wonder if there was a third explanation. Since the piece was discovered in a lumber-room long after Telemann’s death, is it possible that some merry prankster simply took a worthy, blameless cantata by this composer, now lost, and amused himself by fitting crazy words to it? 

Excellent recording, good notes (in English only), texts in the original languages (without translations). 

Christopher Howell 



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