well-chosen programme of seventeenth century songs and lute
music, pleasantly performed, plus a genuine surprise - all
formerly issued on LP by Leonarda. The CD cover carries a
reproduction of one of my favourite paintings, Bartlomeo
Veneto’s Lady Playing A Lute, from the J. Paul Getty
Museum in Malibu, California!
Plantamura is a singer of extensive experience, a good deal
of it in contemporary music. She was a founding member of
Musica Elettronica Viva in Rome; she has sung with L’Ensemble
intercontemporain, based in Paris. The composers she has
worked with include Foss, Cage, Boulez, Berio and Globokar.
She has recorded for Wergo, DG and Fonit/Cetra. She teaches
in the department of Music at the University of California,
San Diego. She lived for twenty years in Italy, and her love
and understanding of things Italian is evident in her singing
here – as well as in publications such as The Opera Lover’s
Guide to Italy and When in Italy - a guide for
singing is idiomatic and personable, with a strong - but
not exaggerated - sense of drama and Jürgen Hübscher and
Beverly Lauridsen are sympathetic accompanists. The programme’s
emphasis is on women composers - one of Plantamura’s other
publications is, apparently, a children’s colouring book
of women composers! The sisters Francesca and Settimia Caccini,
daughters of the composer - and theorist and singer - Giulio
Caccini and the singer Lucia Caccini, were themselves influential
figures in the musical life of Italy, as both composers and
performers. Francesca was no ‘mere’ singer, for she was admired
as a lutenist and harpsichordist and, indeed, as a poet.
Her ‘Chi desia de saper’’ is a canzonetta for soprano and
Spanish guitar and is an impassioned warning against the
dangers of love, performed with panache by singer and instrumentalist.
Settimia’s ‘Già sperai, non spero hor’ più’ is full of dramatic
syncopations and closes with a cry for vengeance that brings
out the best in Plantamura. The Caccini sisters largely made
their reputations in Florence though Settimia did important
work in Mantua. Barbara Strozzi was very much a Venetian,
a student of Cavalli, adopted - and perhaps illegitimate
- daughter of the poet Giulio Strozzi who was important as
a librettist. Strozzi’s music is more widely known than it
was when these recordings were made more than twenty years
ago. The most substantial work here is the lament ‘Che si
può fare’, published in Strozzi’s eighth Book of Songs in
1664. It has affinities with some of Strozzi’s other laments,
such as her ‘Lamento del Marchese Cinq-Mars’. It begins quietly,
mixes recitative and aria in ways that are not always predictable
and is a minor masterpiece of its age. It receives an entirely
worthy performance here.
Jürgen Hübscher takes centre-stage in some solos for Spanish
guitar (La Folia), archlute (by Piccinini) and lute (by Caroso).
He is an assured and accomplished performer, if less dazzling
than some exponents of this kind of music.
one chooses to listen to the CD straight through then, having
been steeped in the idioms of seventeenth century Italy for
some fifty minutes, it does indeed come as something of a
surprise when Julie Kabat’s performance of her setting of
five poems by H.D. (i.e. Hilda Doolittle) begins.
merely at the instrumentation and one assumes that this is
going to be rather silly or gimmicky. In fact the results
are striking and intriguing. The unearthly sound produced
by the combination of the glass harmonium and the violin
proves to be a wholly appropriate background to Ms. Kabat’s
slow-paced reading of H.D.’s words. I do, though, find it
hard to take the musical saw very seriously. In her Invocation
in Centrifugal Form, Kabat’s wordless vocal interacts
with the glass harmonium in a piece at its best when closest
to a kind of meditative quiet in passages which contain some
moments of real beauty. Elsewhere it bears a resemblance
to surrealist and dada word games. Overall, it struggles
to sustain interest through all of the almost ten minutes
that it lasts.
her book The Opera Lover’s Guide to Europe (Robson
Books, 1997) Carol Plantamura writes “Italy and opera are
inextricably bound: expressive, expansive, exciting, exaggerated,
and, above all, beautiful. The Italian language evokes the
sound of singing; the small towns look like opera sets; the
irrepressible Italian spirit is operatic”. Though the repertoire
she sings here is not operatic - though some of the composers,
such as Francesca Caccini did also distinguish themselves
in opera - that same sympathetic enthusiasm for, and identification
with, the spirit of Italian vocal music informs her performance
on this CD.