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Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567 - 1643) Lamento d’Arianna [10.47]; Si dolce e il tormento [4.25]
Jacopo PERI (1561 - 1633) Al fonte al prato [1.44]; Lungi dal vostro lume [2.54]; Se tu parti da me [4.14]; Uccidimi dolore [9.38]
Giovanni Girolamo KAPSBERGER (c.1575 – c.1661) Sferraina (from Libro Quarto) [3.37]; Capona (from Libro Quarto) [3.21]; Passacaglia (from Libro Quarto) [9.13]
Giulio CACCINI (1545 - 1618) Vedro ‘l mio sol [4.01]; Amarilli [3.16]; Amor ch’attendi [1.56]
Richardo ROGNIONO (died c.1620) – Ancor che partire [2.56]
The Catacoustic Consort: Annalisa Pappano (lirone and treble viola da gamba), Artistic Director; Catherine Webster (soprano); Michael Leopold (theorbo); Becky Baxter (baroque triple harp)
rec. St. John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Ontario, Canada, 28 Apr–2 May 2004
NAXOS 8.557538 [62.03]

The rather awkwardly named Catacoustic Consort is an American ensemble consisting of three instrumentalists and a singer. They specialise in Renaissance vocal and instrumental music. Formed in 2001 they are a relatively young group and won the Naxos/Early Music America recording competition in 2003. Their debut recording with Naxos is a programme of 17th Italian dramatic laments.

At the head of the programme, naturally, is the sole remaining fragment from Monteverdi’s opera ‘L’Arianna’, the Lamento d’Arianna. The opera was enormously popular in its time but the manuscript has been lost and we have just this lament. Here it receives a fine dramatic reading from soprano Catherine Webster. Her diction is admirable and her soprano has a fine, focused silvery tone. Perhaps she does not yet have quite a feel for the words comparable with Emma Kirkby’s, but this is an impressive debut.

The group follow this with a short piece by Jacopo Peri, who probably wrote the music for the first real opera La Dafne. His setting of Al fonte al prato (To the spring, to the meadow) is a lively, dancing piece which receives a charming performance from the ensemble.

They follow this with a pair of instrumental pieces by the great theorbo player Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger; first a slowish set of variations over a ground bass and then a more lively dance, over a ground bass again.

Peri’s Lungi dal vostro lume (Far from your light), given in a wonderfully long-breathed performance, is followed by a Vedro’l mio sol by another operatic pioneer Giulio Caccini. Caccini wrote another early opera, L’Euridice; probably the earliest complete opera to survive.

Peri’s Se tu parti da me (If you leave me) is a setting of a sonnet by Michelangelo Buonarotti. This is a substantial piece, but like many of the laments on this disc by Monteverdi’s contemporaries, Peri fails to reach the depths of intensity that Monteverdi does. It helps therefore that the Catacoustic Consort are such a finely balanced group with a good sense of ensemble playing. Their notes make much of the idea that they improvise their performances. Whilst I did not feel these performances sound improvised, they do have a spontaneity and charm which is entirely appealing. Monteverdi himself reappears with the lovely Si dolce e il tormento (So sweet is the torment).

Though the consort varies the instrumentation somewhat, they make a particularly distinctive sound due to the timbre of the lira viol which artistic director Annalisa Pappano often plays. The resulting sound has an appealingly sombre quality. The magic of these performances is the chamber music interplay between the performers rather than any gaudy Technicolor instrumentation.

A further instrumental item follows; a Kapsberger’s Passacaglia is a long, wonderfully contemplative piece.

Then the other well known piece on the disc, Caccini’s Amarilli; known in a variety of incarnations, the consort give it a charming, unhackneyed performance with Webster gradually increasing the intensity of vocal decoration as the piece progresses. This is followed by a further instrumental piece by a name new to me: Richardo Rogniono.

Peri’s Uccidimi dolore (Slay me, grief) is another substantial lament; a dramatic recitative which receive a big dramatic performance from Caroline Webster. Finally the group conclude with the charming Amor ch’attendi (Love what are you waiting for) by Caccini.

If you want the song texts and translations for this release then you must visit Naxos’s web site; understandable perhaps given the budget nature of this release. The CD liner notes include an article introducing the genre and the composers, but they fail to provide detailed background information on the individual items, which is a lost opportunity I think. If I have a complaint about the recital programme, it is that they could perhaps have explored some further by-ways of the vocal repertoire and reduced the number of instrumental items. But many will enjoy the disc’s mix of vocal and instrumental.

This is repertoire which has been traversed many times by a number of groups, starting with Antony Rooley and the Consort of Musicke. Perhaps the Catacoustic Consort does not have the sheer perfection that Rooley and Emma Kirkby bring to this repertoire. What the Catacoustic Consort does display is a fine sense of spontaneity and they convey a fine sense of four artists playing chamber music in a responsive manner. I hope to hear more of them.

Robert Hugill



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