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Barbara STROZZI (1619-1677)
Serenata, con violini, Op. 8 (1664) [1:48]
Lagrime mie, Op. 7 (1659) [8:39]
Finche tu spiri, Op. 7 (1659) [10:17]
Bel desio che mi tormenti, Op. 6 (1657) [6:18]
Il Lamento: Sul Rodano severo, Op. 2 (1651) [12:19]
Costume de grandi: Godere e lasciare, Op.2 (1651) [4:29]
L’Eraclito Amoroso: Udite Udite amanti, Op. 2 (1651) [6:32]
Mentite (instrumental version), Op. 6 (1657) [4:19]
Apresso ai molli argenti, Op. 7 (1659) [11:56]
Biagio MARINI (c.1597-1665)
Sonata per due violoni, Op. 22 (1655) [4:35]
Sinfonia sesto tuono, Op. 22 (1655) [2:04]
Ensemble Poïésis: Christiana Presutti (voice); Martin Bauer (viola da gamba); Angélique Mauillon (harp); Hager Spaeter-Hanana (cello), Odile Edouard, Benjamin Chénier (violins); Marion Fourquier (harp, director)
rec. 4-6 May, 2006, Auditorium Ansermet, Radio Suisse Romande, Geneva. DDD
ÆON AECD 0643 [71:16]

Barbara Strozzi is a fascinating figure, musically and biographically alike. As a composer she wrote works of great interest, leaving aside any special interest which attaches to her as one of those pretty rare creatures, a female composer in the Italian Renaissance/Baroque era. Biographically, one feels that she ought to have attracted the attention of biographers, or even novelists – her near contemporary, the painter Artemisia Gentilleschi (1593-1652/3) has, after all, been the subject of at least three fictionalised lives, by Anna Banti (Artemisia, 1965), Alexandra Lapierre (Artemisia: un duel pour l'immortalité, 1998) and Susan Vreeland (The Passion of Artemisia, 2002). The outer events of Strozzi’s life are less sensational than those of Gentilleschi’s, but fascinating nonetheless.
She was the illegitimate daughter of Giulio Strozzi (1583-1652), offshoot of a distinguished Florentine family and well established in Venice as a poet; Monteverdi set some of his sonnets, and he collaborated with Monteverdi, Merula and Cavalli, amongst others. Barbara Strozzi’s mother was one of Giulio Strozzi’s household servants. Her daughter seems always to have been well-treated by her father; she was brought up mixing amongst the cultural elite of Venice. Her musical training was obviously extensive; she gained a reputation as a singer – when Nicolò Fontei dedicated two publications to her in the 1630s he described her as “virtuosissimi cantatrice”; her performances as a singer, however, seem to have been restricted to private occasions, such as concerts at her father’s home or for select gatherings of the Accademia degli Unisoni which he established. She studied composition with no less a master than Cavalli and her first volume of compositions was published in 1644. Others followed, the sequence coming to a close with the Op. 8 Arie of 1664. In total she published over a hundred and twenty pieces, most of them secular in nature; her Sacri musicali affetti of 1655 is the chief exception.
Some accounts of her – largely based on one contemporary satire – have depicted her as a kind of courtesan but, even though she did have three children by an older married friend of her father - Giovanni Paolo Vidman – there is little evidence to justify this assumption. There is much fascinating information in two articles by Beth L. Gilson in Musical Quarterly, Vol. 81, 1997, pp.311-335 and Vol.83, 1999, pp.134-141. These supersede the entry in the New Grove. Candace A. Magner has contributed a valuable piece, ‘Barbara Strozzi: A Documentary Perspective’ to The Journal of Singing, Vol.58, 2002.
As a composer one of the most striking things about Barbara Strozzi is the care and attention she gives to the texts of her many vocal compositions. The fact that as a performer she was confined to the domestic sphere – rather than performing in church or theatre – perhaps made her particularly sensitive to the possibilities of an intimate relationship between words and music. No doubt the influence of her poet-father counted for something here, too.
It is in her vocal works that Strozzi is heard at her best and most individual. This present CD gives us the chance to hear her vocal writing in several different moods. ‘Finche tu spiri, spera’ is an anguished setting of words by Rottillio Lepidi, expressive of the pains of the unhappy lover. ‘Bel desio che mi tormenti’ is an elegant love song, rather lighter in tone; ‘Costume di grandi’ sets words by her father, moral advice about the lies and flatteries of lovers and of the ‘great’. Giovanni Pietro Monesi provides the words for ‘Apresso ai molli argenti’, full of unexpected chromaticism and richly expressive. Much of Strozzi’s best work is to be found in her laments, such as this last. ‘Il Lamento: Sul Rodano severo’ is a powerful piece, occasioned by the execution of Henri d’Effiat, Marquis de Cinq-Mars and favourite of Louis XIII of France, for his part in a plot against Cardinal Richelieu. Strozzi’s composition, sometimes referred to as the ‘Lamento del Marchese Cinq-Mars’, is a powerful and memorable work, nowhere more so than in its remarkable conclusion, with the rapid reiteration of a single chord in the continuo accompaniment. In ‘Lagrime mie’, which sets words by Pietro Dolfino, we are back with an unhappy lover, but the conventionality of Dolfino’s text is not reproduced in Strozzi’s striking setting, full of unexpected melodic and harmonic twists and turns and genuinely moving.
Strozzi’s music is gradually getting more and more attention and some of these works have already been recorded more than once. Others, I think, are getting their first recording here. The performances are assured and intelligent, the recorded sound rich and clear. Cristiana Presutti has a full, even heavy, voice which does full justice to the emotional substance of much of Strozzi’s writing; there are one or two places where a little more agility, a little more variety of tone, wouldn’t have gone amiss, but there is a great deal to enjoy here. The instrumental accompaniment perhaps lacks the sheer zing that we have now come to expect from the very best Italian ensembles in music of this period but, again, this is a minor reservation in the face of such richly enjoyable music-making. Not a bad place to start if you don’t know Strozzi’s work; another CD to add to your collection if you are already an admirer of her work.
Glyn Pursglove



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