Barbara Strozzi is one of the most intriguing composers of
the 17th century. Her music is well represented in the catalogue,
and that doesn't surprise considering its quality. The
fact that she was a woman is probably even more reason to pay
attention to her compositions. At that time it was highly unusual
for a woman to compose. At least, that is the general opinion.
In fact, the situation was a bit different, as Nicola Badolato
writes in the liner-notes to this recording. There were quite
a number of female singers in Italy in Strozzi's time
who sang their own compositions. But these were never printed,
and therefore we don't know them. That is why Barbara
Strozzi is unique: between 1644 and 1664 eight collections were
printed, ranging from madrigals for three to five voices (opus
1) to arias for solo voice and basso continuo (opus 8). All
but one of these collections have been preserved; only opus
4 has been lost.
As one would expect there is a strong feminist aspect in the
interest in Strozzi and her music, just as is the case with
Hildegard von Bingen. Those who see Barbara Strozzi as a kind
of forerunner of feminism will probably be disappointed by the
way she presented her music. For instance in the dedication
of her opus 2 to Ferdinand III of Austria and Elena Gonzaga:
"From the worthless mine of a woman's humble brain
there cannot come metal suitable for making rich golden crowns
for the glory of august personages". It should also be
noticed that she took profit from the fact that her father Giulio
was instrumental in the development of her career as a singer
and composer. Without his support we probably wouldn't
have heard about her. That is what could well have been the
difference between Strozzi and other female singer-composers
of her time.
The sole reason why her music deserves attention is its musical
quality. This was recognized in her time as is proved by the
fact that some of her pieces were included in anthologies, alongside
compositions by the likes of Cavalli, Rovetta and Cazzati. With
the exception of her opus 5 all compositions are of a secular
character. The authors of most texts are not named, but among
those who are mentioned her father Giulio figures alongside
other poets from Venice.
The pieces printed as opus 6 are called ariette. This
suggests a specific form, but in fact the ariettas are very
different in structure. Some texts are strophic, others are
not, but that is not decisive in the way Strozzi has set them
to music. She creates her own structure through musical means,
as Nicola Badolato writes. "With the attitude of a miniaturist,
she creates spacious, complex arias even out of very short texts".
Elements like repetition, shifts in rhythm and the inclusion
of recitativic passages all serve the expression of the text.
That is one of the reasons that Strozzi's music is captivating.
It is unfortunate that this doesn't really come off in
this recording. Let me first highlight a couple of things regarding
the interpretation. Tadashi Miroku is announced as controtenore
(counter-tenor), but he regularly moves well into the soprano
range. All solo pieces by Barbara Strozzi are scored for soprano,
reflecting the fact that she wrote them first and foremost for
her own performance. I don't know if they have been transposed
in this recording. Miroku's singing is not very different
from that of those singers who present themselves as sopranists.
Also notable is the fact that all ariettas are preceded by short
keyboard pieces, taken from a 17th-century source which is now
in the library of the Vatican in Rome. It is an interesting
aspect of this recording which seems to reflect the performance
practice in the baroque era. It should also be noticed that
Silvia Rambaldi prefers a strong, full-blooded realisation of
the basso continuo, according to the ideas of her teacher Jesper
This is especially noteworthy because it greatly contributes
to one of the significant aspects of these performances: the
general loudness. Tadashi Miroku goes mostly full speed ahead.
He usually sings forte, with only now and then forays into the
mezzo forte range. There are no piano passages, and in general
I have the impression that the text is treated in a not too
differentiated way. That is hard to assess, though, as the booklet
includes the lyrics but omits English translations. The last
piece of the programme, Che si può fare, is the only
one I can remember having heard before, and in a more subtle
way than it is presented here. Moreover, too little attention
has been given to articulation: the singing is mostly straightforward.
The acoustic circumstances are not very helpful. The distant
miking and the swimming pool locale are at odds with the intimacy
this music requires. As a result the text is not that easy to
As captivating as this repertoire is, and despite the unmistakeable
qualities of Miroku's singing and Ms Rambaldi's
playing this recording does not do real justice to Strozzi's
music. In the insert list tracks 5 and 6 have been swapped.
The header of this review uses the correct order.
Johan van Veen