A programme of laments,
even dramatic ones, might sound daunting, but such is the variety
of pacing and expression this group finds in those recorded
here that one’s fears are set aside. Besides, there a few cheats:
Peri’s “Al fonte al prato” is a jolly piece that got in by mistake
and, while the words of “Amor ch’attendi” might suggest lament-like
treatment, Caccini thought otherwise so this makes a lively
end to the disc. Then there are four instrumental pieces slipped
in along the way, by Kapsberger and Rogniono; the former’s Passacaglia
is big and serious but the others have a tripping charm and
the “Sferraina” shows minimalism to have been alive and well
in the early 17th century – and distinctly more attractive
than it is today.
The bulk of the
programme falls on the shoulders of the soprano, Catherine Webster,
who proves well able to sustain it. This is a typical “early
music” voice, sweet and girlish in its upper register – but
also able to express fiery passion without a suspicion that
a 19th century operatic voice is lurking in the shadows
– and stronger in her lower register with a tough of chest tone.
There is none of the nasality which some singers have essayed
in the name of authenticity. Helped by her inventive accompanists
she encompasses a wide range of expression with complete spontaneity.
It can never be insisted too much that this early music, despite
its apparently limited means, is frequently sumptuous in effect,
ironically more so than in latter-day “elaborations”. The student
who knows Caccini’s “Amarilli” only with Parisotti’s plodding
piano accompaniment (the “Arie antiche” are still going strong
in Italian conservatoires, I’m afraid) will be amazed at the
richness and expressiveness of the version presented here.
The group’s Artistic
Director, Annalisa Pappano, contributes a good general introduction
to the music, but the non-specialist listeners at whom this
bargain issue is presumably aimed might have appreciated some
comments on the individual pieces. I suppose there was no space.
For this same reason, listeners wishing texts and translations
are invited to pull them down from the Naxos site. I have already
expressed my reserves on Naxos’s policy and I should be sorry
if a disc potentially capable of reaching listeners who do not
normally go for this repertoire – it is a very attractive programme
excellently performed – should instead be limited to those with
the necessary background knowledge to deal with it. That apart,
it’s a lovely disc. If the Catacoustic Consort record more -
I certainly hope they will), perhaps next time they’ll tell
us what “Catacoustic” means.
see also Review
by Robert Hugill