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Canta in Prato: Songs, Dances and Arias
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) Canta in Prato, RV636 [4:19]
King HENRY VIII (1491-1547) Pastime with Good Company [3:37]
ANON (Folk Song?, 16th Century) Greensleeves [2:36]
William CORNYSHE (1468-1523) Blow thy Horn, Hunter [2:25]
Michael PRÆTORIUS (1571-1621) Bransle de la Torche (instrumental) [3:07]
Anthony HOLBORNE (d.1602) Image of Melancholy (instrumental) [4 :57]
Michael PRÆTORIUS Volta (instrumental) [1:22]
Johann Michael BACH (1648-94) Es ist ein großer Gewinn [4:23]
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643) Clori amorosa (pub. 1607) [2:29]; Dolci miei sospiri (1607) [3:49]; Rosetta, che Rosetta (1607) [1:58]
Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725) Lontan dalla sua Clori: Recitativo [0:39]; Aria [3:14]; Recitativo [1:39]; Aria [3:57]
Antonio VIVALDI In furore iustissimæ iræ, RV626: Aria [5:05]; Recitativo [0:36]; Aria [3:33]; Alleluia [2:00]
Capella Stravagante (Kathrin Freyburg (soprano); Katrin Hagitte (flute, chamber organ); Julia Prigge (violin); Margit Reinicke (violin); Stefano Macor (viola); Laurie Randolph (viola da gamba, guitar and percussion); Reinhard Eger (cello); Christian Hagitte (harpsichord))
rec. Community Hall of Hochmeister Church, Berlin, February-March 2006. DDD.
Booklet with notes in English and German.
Original texts with English and German translations.

This is Capella Stravagante’s first CD. The booklet explains that their name is borrowed from Vivaldi’s concerto collection La Stravaganza because they feature "an unusual, extravagantly interpreted repertoire … to take you on a journey through the world of early music". It’s something of a gimmick, but then, so was Vivaldi’s use of the term for his Op.4 – "I’m going to extravagant lengths to show off here" – and other similar titles for other collections.

In effect, Capella Stravagante are offering a sampler or showcase of their talents; to say that they are throwing lots of mud against the wall to see what sticks – a practice much beloved of A-level and undergraduate essay-writers – would be unkind, because what they have to offer is far from negligible, but I did feel that their "direct juxtaposition of very disparate text settings" was less of a virtue than the booklet claims.

The short Vivaldi piece which opens the CD – pastoral in tone, though usually included in programmes of his sacred music – and the longer religious work which closes it do more than anchor the programme: they set the tone for it – pastoral and courtly music interspersed with some instrumental items, a short moralistic piece by a member of the Bach family at its heart and another in which the storm of God’s most righteous anger is turned to joy at the end.

All but three of these pieces feature the soprano Kathrin Freyburg. That she is an accomplished singer there is no doubt, but her voice is something of an acquired taste and it is not well suited to some of the pieces here. She tends to turn on the big guns too much, though she is capable of some delicate singing, as in the opening Canta in Prato. This song of pleasure, written as an introduzione to Dixit Dominus, gives its name to the whole collection; even here and certainly elsewhere I could wish to hear more of the laughing, exulting, pleasant and happy voice to which the text refers – and which Freyburg partly evokes – Canta in prato ride in fonte … læta in monte/vox respondeat exsultando .. Vox lætitiæ.

The second piece, Pastime with Good Company, starts well, with the same lightness apparent. Soon, however, the big guns come out and the lightness of "all goodly sport" is lost. It isn’t a matter of tempo: all three English songs are taken at a goodly pace; it’s more a matter of trying too hard, as it were through gritted teeth, to get it right.

Greensleeves is sung with just the right degree of wistfulness but, again, there is also a hint of trying to put more into the music than it will take, especially at the end of the second stanza. In the three 16th-century English pieces she tries to produce an ‘authentic’ pronunciation which, as usual with singers who attempt this, comes out as some kind of Mummerset – though not as bad as some attempts which I have heard. We can make a very good guess at the pronunciation of Chaucer but we know too little about the speed at which the pure vowels of late Middle English became the diphthongs of early Modern English to try to reproduce the pronunciation of late 15th-century and 16th-century and, lover of authenticity though I am, it is particularly unwise for someone to attempt it whose first language is not English.

I have retained the booklet’s description of Greensleeves as a folksong, though I have added a ? because I am by no means convinced that it is. Its first appearance, in A Handful of Pleasant Delights in 1584 described it as a courtly sonnet. What is almost beyond doubt is that the traditional ascription to Henry VIII is incorrect.

The booklet refers to the words of Blow thy Horn, Hunter as "somewhat ambiguous", which might seem to imply that we cannot know what Cornyshe was getting at. In fact, the ‘hidden’ meaning is perfectly plain – the stricken deer which the hunter pursues is the lover at whom he aims. "If you lust to have a shot / I warrant her barrain" is part of the double-entendre: on one level, the hunter will not be breaking any of the laws of venery, as he would be if he shot a pregnant doe (‘barrain’ = barren, not pregnant); on another level, the courtly lover may pursue the girl, since she is fair game. This hunting/love parallel is confirmed by analogy with Thomas Wyatt’s poem "Who so list to hount, I knowe where is an hynde", where the hind in question, with a collar round her neck reading "Noli me tangere, for Cesars I ame; / And wylde for to hold, though I seme tame" is generally believed to be Anne Boleyn. The German translator, none other than Kathrin Freyburg herself, puzzled by the word ‘barrain’, renders it as ‘Beute (?)’ and so she misunderstands an important part of the poem. There are other, smaller, misunderstandings in the German translation of the other English texts. There is an online vocal score of Blow thy Horn.

Apart from a Gaudeamus CD of Cornysh’s secular music, most recent recordings and reissues of early Tudor music have been of sacred works. Valuable as these are – the reissues on Coro of music from the Eton Songbook especially – we need more recordings of the secular music of this period. There used to be two excellent Saga recordings, Music for a Tudor King and Music for Henry VIII, performed by the Hilliard Ensemble. These reappeared fitfully on one of the CD reincarnations of the Saga label; their reissue (by Regis?) would be very welcome.

The instrumentalists accompany well throughout – neither too prominent nor too reticent – and they come into their own with a suitably melancholy rendition of the Holborne and sprightly accounts of two dances from Prætorius’s Terpsichore, the latter worthy to stand beside the now-classic Munrow and Pickett accounts, though the choice of instruments makes them sound different from both. I wondered at first at the inclusion of a guitar in the instrumental line-up but it makes a reasonable substitute for the more usual member(s) of the lute family.

These three instrumental items may whet the listener’s appetite for more, in which case both Munrow and Pickett in the Prætorius may be highly recommended. The Pickett, last seen on Decca Oiseau-Lyre 414 633-2 seems to be currently unavailable – pending reissue, surely: how about it, Australian Eloquence? Alternatively, perhaps, it could be a candidate for the new mid-price reissue series on Oiseau-Lyre, recently launched with some promising material. (Mark Sealey recently favourably reviewed its appearance from Arkiv on CDR.) The Munrow comes on a Virgin Veritas 2-CD set with Morley and Susato – remember Ken Russell’s film The Devils, where this performance of the Susato provided the title music? – on 3 50003 2 at around £8.50 in the UK. The version on Regis RRC1076, with the Prætorius Consort, is even better value. I play this delightful version, coupled with dance music by Arbeau, Labranzi, Holborne and Demantius, more often even than the Munrow or Pickett versions: 77 minutes of sheer delight.

The J M Bach and the final Vivaldi piece come out best from Freyburg’s approach. If she sounds rather earnest in the Bach, that is not inappropriate for J S Bach’s 17th-century Lutheran uncle’s – and father-in-law’s – setting of the advantages of pious contentment with one’s lot, a text part of which is familiar from the Anglican Funeral service: "We brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out." J M Bach was both organist and town clerk at Gehren, a quiet and modest man by all accounts, whose workmanlike music comes over well here.

The Monteverdi pieces come from the Scherzi Musicali a tre voci (1607, though mostly written earlier) some of which, despite the title, are settings for solo soprano. Despite appropriate tempi, lively for Clori amorosa and pensive for Dolci miei sospiri, these sit less happily on Freyburg’s voice, which would be better suited, perhaps, to some of Monteverdi’s operatic roles: those seeking a recommendable set of the Scherzi would do better with the collection on Naxos 8.553317. Better still, if your collection lacks examples of Monteverdi’s more mature style in the later books of madrigals, especially Book VIII, go for one of these, preferably Alessandrini’s recent mid-price 3-CD set: I thoroughly endorse Glyn Pursglove’s recent enthusiastic review of this set.

The lively Rosetta, che Rosetta comes out well and the more overtly dramatic (operatic, even) Scarlatti piece benefits much more from Freyburg’s approach; there is real variety in the voice here, with more than a hint of the melancholy which Emma Kirkby captures so well in this kind of repertoire, in the aria Dove sei.

The Vivaldi In furore, too, comes over well, with the voice matching the furious orchestral introduction, reminiscent of the Tempesta di mare concerto, then softening in the next section. I could have wished for a lighter approach when tears finally warm the joyful heart and in the concluding Alleluia. Deborah York on Volume 2 of Hyperion’s complete Vivaldi Sacred Music (CDA66779 or on the complete bargain-price 11-CD package, CDS44171-81, a little over £60 in the UK) shows how this piece should be sung.

The recording throughout is good, though the rather forward placing of the soloist perhaps contributes to my sense of too ‘large’ a vocal presence.

The booklet is adequate, though it does not, for example, give the RV numbers of the Vivaldi items. Nor does it specify the provenance of the three Monteverdi items. The texts are given first in their original language then, where necessary, in German and English translation. I have already mentioned some inaccuracies in the German versions but the English translations seem sound enough.

This is a promising first outing on CD. If Kathrin Freyburg can concentrate less in future on trying to produce an ‘impressive’ sound and on such things as attempting to pronounce early-16th-century English, instead just enjoying the music and letting it speak for itself, I look forward to hearing their future discs. Perhaps the next outing should be in some more dramatic material – Monteverdi or Handel arias, maybe?

Brian Wilson


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