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.
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.
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.