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Lamenti
Pietro Francesco CAVALLI (1602-76)
Lasso io vivo (L’Egisto) (1643) [3:50]

Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Lamenta della Ninfa (1638) [5:15]
Barbara STROZZI (1619-77)
L’Eraclito amoroso (1651) [5:59]

Claudio MONTEVERDI
Lamento d’Arianna (1608) [7:12]

Stefano LANDI (1687-1639)
Superbe colli (1620) [5:46]

Claudio MONTEVERDI
Addio Roma (L’Incoronazione di Poppea) (1643) [4:09]
Francesco CAVALLI
Dormi, cara Didone (La Didone) (1641) [6:52]
Giacomo CARISSIMI (1605-74)
Lamento di Maria Stuarda [9:13]
Pietro Antonio CESTI (1623-69)
Dure noie (L’Argia) (1655) [5:39]
Francesco CAVALLI
Tremulo spirito (La Didone) (1641) [8:06]
Claudio MONTEVERDI
Tu se’ morte (L’Orfeo) (1607) [2:19]

Patrizia Ciofi (soprano); Natalie Dessay (soprano); Véronique Gens (soprano); Joyce DiDonato (mezzo); Marie-Nicole Lemieux (contralto); Philippe Jaroussky (counter-tenor) ; Topi Lehtipuu (tenor); Rolando Villazón (tenor) ; Simon Wall (tenor); Laurent Naouri (bass-baritone); Christopher Purves (bass-baritone);
Le Concert d’Astrée/Emmanuelle Haïm (organ, harpischord)
rec. Chappelle de l’Hôpital Notre Dame du Bon Secours, Paris, 4-6 February, 2007 and 26-27 May, 2008.  DDD.
Texts and translations included.
VIRGIN CLASSICS 5190442 [64:21] 

 

Experience Classicsonline


Two forms of sorrowful music were popular in the renaissance and baroque eras, one religious, one secular, though the two sometimes overlapped.  The popularity of settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, alone or as part of Tenebræ for Holy Week is matched by the secular lament, several of which are performed on this new recording, including what may be considered the pattern for them all, Monteverdi’s Lamento d’Arianna.   Ariadne’s desertion by Theseus rarely figured in art until the subject was popularised by Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne, now in the London National Gallery.
 

Ariadne’s Lament was originally part of Monteverdi’s 1608 opera Arianna, now lost, only the enormous popularity of the Lament having preserved several versions of this one small part.  Surprisingly, Emmanuelle Haïm or the producer has decided not to place this piece first on the CD where it surely ought to be, but that doesn’t prevent my considering it first – surely, the performance of this piece makes or breaks the CD. 

Véronique Gens (tr.4) begins her performance almost inaudibly, her voice nearly lost against the accompaniment; though she increases the volume as she turns from longing to die to an appeal to Theseus to return and save her, this is quiet, undemonstrative grief.  It’s not ineffective, but I’d have liked the stops to have been pulled out a little more, as they are by Emma Kirkby with the Consort of Musicke.  Kirkby’s voice is clearer and more audible against the chitarrone accompaniment from the start and her grief more palpable.  Her account is also considerably more drawn out – 9:52 against Gens’ 7:12 – without dragging or sounding at all lugubrious.  I like most of what I’ve heard from Véronique Gens in the past, but I have to declare Kirkby the clear winner here. (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 05472774302, at super-budget price). 

If, as I have said, the performance of this piece makes or breaks the CD, I have to declare it a limited success – all is still to play for. 

The other respect in which the Kirkby/Rooley recording gains is in setting this one work in context, with Monteverdi’s own later arrangement for five voices (1614) and his 1640 reworking of the Lament in the persona of the Virgin Mary as il Pianto della Madonna for voice and organ, with Jesus replacing Theseus as the object of longing.  To these Monteverdi settings, the DHM recording adds settings by Severo Bonini, Francesco Costa and Antonio Verso of Ariadne’s Lament, a superb CD, let down only by its lack of texts. 

Of the other Monteverdi works on the new CD, Natalie Dessay’s Lamento della Ninfa (tr.2) is rather more impressive, the sense of betrayal which she feels more palpable.  Of course, lamenting lovers of both genders are part of the post-Petrarchan game of the madrigal, but one might as well enter fully into the spirit of the game, as Dessay does here.  If anything, she sounds a little strident, but I suppose that it’s in the nature of neglected nymphs to sound strident. 

The competition here, too, is intense – no less than the Concerto Italiano directed by Rinaldo Alessandrini in their excellent account of the Eighth Book of Madrigals, reissued last year at mid-price on Naïve OP30435 (3 CDs – see review by Glyn Pursglove).  On the Alessandrini recording, the nymph is sung by Rossana Bertini, a sweeter-sounding singer if that’s the way you like your nymphs.  For me she made a more convincing nymph than her better-known rival, successfully blending vulnerability and grief.  If I preferred Kirkby’s more elongated version of Arianna’s lament, it may seem illogical to prefer Bertini’s slightly faster account of the nymph’s lament, but I did. I also much preferred Alessandrini’s supporting singers – and the whole of his set of Book 8 is so engaging that I couldn’t take the CD off after hearing the lamento. 

If you want the Lamento della Ninfa slightly slower and more grief-laden, there is an excellent version on a collection of Madrigali Amorosi from Monteverdi’s later madrigal books from Cantus Cölln and Conrad Junghänel, another super-budget CD from Deutsche Harmonia Mundi (05472778552).  I couldn’t take this CD off, either, after making the comparison; I bought it several years ago at full price – it’s excellent value now at around £5. 

On track 6 of the new CD, Joyce DiDonato sings Addio Roma from Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea, which I found rather more convincing than either of her rivals in the Laments – this is an Ottavia with more bite than Arianna and less stridency than the nymph, which is as it should be – while Rolando Villazón rounds off the CD on track 11 with the fourth Monteverdi piece, Tu se’morta from L’Orfeo in which I actually preferred his singing to that of Nigel Rogers on my ‘benchmark’ recording of this work.   Orpheus’s grief at the loss of Eurydice is, of course, an even better-known classical tale of loss than that of Ariadne. 

Villazón offers the most pleasant surprise on the new recording: I hadn’t associated his voice with baroque music, but Cavalli’s Lasso io vivo, with which he opens the CD in fine style, and the concluding piece from L’Orfeo make me hope that he will visit this repertoire more regularly, perhaps even a complete Monteverdi opera?  If anything, I found his two tracks more attractive than anything which the more established baroque voices here have to offer. 

Barbara Strozzi’s L’Eraclito amoroso (tr.3) offers an unusual view of the philosopher Heraclitus who averred that everything is in flux, panta rhei.  Even philosophers fall in love – in the late medieval and early-modern periods the legend of Socrates making himself a fool for love’s sake was a popular theme.  Barbara Strozzi, a rare female composer in a male world, would have been delighted at the thought of a man besotted by his beloved and her setting of this text is one of the reasons why she is often thought of as a proto-feminist.  It’s a fine work and Philippe Jaroussky delivers it convincingly.  Strozzi certainly deserves to be much better known; sadly, the Musica Oscura label, on which she had a CD to herself, is no longer operative.  Johan van Veen strongly recommended a mid-price Harmonia Mundi CD of her music which includes two laments (HMX2901114 – see review: NB the heading omits a vital 1 in the catalogue number.) 

For poets and composers in Catholic Europe, Mary Stuart became a modern martyr for the cause.  The usually moderate Ronsard makes her an iconic figure in his Elégie à Marie Stuart (ed. Laumonier XIV, 152), even before her imprisonment and death, conveniently ignoring her chequered history.  Carissimi’s Lamento di Maria Stuarda (tr.8) belongs to this genre; its text is more passionate than Ronsard and it receives an appropriately declamatory performance from Patrizia Ciofi, preferable to the slightly over-the-top and rather drawn-out performance of this piece by Elisabeth Speiser on a deleted all-Carissimi 1988 recording on the Jecklin label (JD 5004-2).  The Jecklin version takes over 12 minutes, which is over-egging the tragic pudding a little – the new Virgin version lasts only 9:13 and the version on Naxos (Lamenti Barocchi, Volume 3, 8.553320) falls in-between at 11:32.  For all my reservations, the Jecklin offers a valuable collection, worth looking out for in remainder bins or second-hand. 

Ciofi also sings Tremulo spirito from Cavalli’s la Didone on track 10 with Marie-Nicole Lemieux.  This extract portrays the grief of Hecuba, part of the story of the destruction of Troy which Æneas relates to Dido; the booklet doesn’t make the connection clear – many listeners will be left wondering how the grief of Hecuba comes into an opera about Dido. 

Hamlet wonders at the way in which an actor could invoke sympathy for a long-dead Trojan woman, that he:

Could force his soule so to his own conceit,
That from her working, all his visage wann’d;
Teares in his eyes, distraction in’s Aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole Function suiting
With Formes, to his Conceit?  And all for nothing?
For Hecuba?
What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba
That he should weepe for her? (Hamlet 2.2.530-7) 

We may equally admire the quality of Cavalli’s music and its rendition on this recording. 

Dido was, of course, the other great classical model of the abandoned lover, the love of Dido and Æneas in Book IV of Vergil’s Æneid being, then as now, the best-known part of that work.  Another excerpt from la Didone appears on track 7, not so much a lament as the regret of Æneas that fate calls him away, sung this time by Topi Lehtipuu, a tenor whom I had not encountered before but whom I am very much looking forward to hearing again on the strength of this piece.

Christopher Purves gives a good account of Landi’s Superbe colli (tr.5) and Laurent Naouri also sings well in Cesti’s Dure noie (tr.9).  On the whole, the male singers acquit themselves better than the ladies on this CD, which is surprising in view of the fact that few of the men are well known, other than Villazón – and he is not normally associated with the baroque – while the ladies are mostly baroque specialists. 

The accompaniment by the members of Le Concert d’Astrée is mostly suitably low-key and Emmanuelle Haïm’s direction equally unobtrusive.  The recording is good and the notes brief but to the point.  The English notes are the original text, so no problems with translation there; the translations of the texts are also idiomatic. 

The CD as a whole may be recommended, individual reservations notwithstanding, though it may be timely to reinforce my recommendation of the two much less expensive DHM recordings which I have mentioned.  I haven’t heard any of the Naxos series of Lamenti Barocchi, but they, too, of course, are very inexpensive.  Let cost be no object, however, in obtaining the Alessandrini CDs of Monteverdi’s Eighth Book – in any case, they are a sort of bargain in that the three discs are offered at effectively the price of two.

Brian Wilson


 


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