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What Artemesia Heard: Music and Art from the Time of Caravaggio and Gentileschi.
Details after review
Jennifer Ellis Kampani, Nell Snaidas, Céline Ricci (soprano)
Paul Shipper (bass)
El Mundo/Richard Savino
rec. Skywalker Sound, Marin County, California, 25-27 March 2014. DSD/DDD
Texts and translations included
SONO LUMINUS DSL92195 [77:16]

Reviewed as 24-bit download from eclassical.com (also available in mp3 and 16-bit lossless with pdf booklet and from dealers on CD)

The Artemisia of the title is Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653) who, having been taught by her father Orazio, went on to become a fine painter in her own right.  She is recognised today as having effectively surpassed her father.  Born in Rome, she became a member of the Accademia in Florence, a rare honour, spent some time in Venice and London, and died in Naples, hence the five divisions of this programme of music, all composed roughly within her lifetime.

Her most famous paintings are of heroines, such as Judith slaying Holofernes and Susanna and the Elders, both on Old Testament themes from the Apocrypha.  She clearly also had an interest in music: there’s a self-portrait as a lutenist, another of St Cecilia playing the lute and one of a young woman playing the violin.  Several of these are reproduced in colour in the booklet and many others can be found online.

Another major painter of the period, Caravaggio (1570-1610), has also captured the imagination of modern art-lovers, sometimes for non-artistic reasons – as one of the few artists to have a long police record.  He too sometimes depicted musicians, as in the painting of The Musicians (1595), also reproduced in the booklet, though his most famous works are the two depictions of the Supper at Emmaus, one in the National Gallery in London, with its almost 3D sense of depth.  His place in this recital is due mainly to the fact that Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi were admirers of his work and used many of his techniques.

All of that may be a rather loose peg on which to hang this generous anthology of music of the period but it’s justified by some fine performances.  Richard Savino recounts how, having marvelled at the work of the Gentileschis and Caravaggio, he wondered how it is that the art of the period attracts vastly larger crowds than the music of the time.  I must admit that I wondered much the same when St John’s, Smith Square, was not much more than half full for the Tallis Scholars’ wonderful 2000th concert recently – review – when I had expected it to be packed to the rafters. 

If only half the visitors to the Renaissance area of the National Gallery that week had been there, I’m sure they would have appreciated the concert.  After all, the Gallery does its bit to encourage music by sponsoring budget-price albums combining the art and music of various periods produced in conjunction with EMI/Warner.  The nearest they come to the period of Artemisia Gentileschi is the inexpensive 2-CD set The Renaissance of Italian Music, with Allegri, both Gabrielis, Monteverdi and Palestrina (0887892).

El Mundo is a chamber group dedicated to the performance of sixteenth to nineteenth century Latin American, Spanish and Italian chamber music. Under the direction of guitarist/lutenist Richard Savino, it was formed in 1999 and on the basis of this recording it’s one of today’s finest period-instrument ensembles.

This is the first recording that I have heard from them, but I quickly ensured that it was not the only one and I hope that it won’t be my last.  There are earlier Sono Luminus albums of The Kingdoms of Castile (DSL92131) and Salir el Amor del Mundo (Love leaves the World, DSL92107 – review).  I downloaded the latter from 7digital.com, where it’s available in 320kbs mp3 or m4a and it comes with the pdf booklet with texts and translations – well done for adding that, 7digital.

There are slightly more singers on Salir el Amor than on the new album but Jennifer Ellis Kampani and Nell Snaidas feature to great effect on both, as does the bass Paul Shipper, who also plays baroque guitar and percussion.  Though the string accompaniment is minimalist, there’s a sizeable and effective continuo contribution on the new CD.  I enjoyed both of these El Mundo recordings.

Apart from Monteverdi and, possibly, Caccini, composer of Euridice, the first opera to appear in print, you may not recognise many of the names but the music is all worth hearing.  In view of the dramatic nature of many of Gentileschi’s paintings and of Caravaggio’s life, it’s appropriate that we begin and end with battle music, though both pieces represent rather gentler conflicts than Biber’s La Battalia, Jordi Savall’s recording of which has just been reissued with a glorious new recording of the Missa Salisburgensis (Alia Vox AVSA9912 – review pending).

Though the booklet indicates that the recording was made in 5.1 and 7.1 surround, it doesn’t appear to be available on SACD and I haven’t found a supplier for it in surround-sound downloads.  The 24-bit download from eclassical.com is at 24/192 – a large file, which takes a long time to download.  My DAC downsized that to 24/96 but it sounded very well indeed.

With helpful notes, texts and translations and plenty of colour illustrations, the booklet is something of a de luxe offering.  It adds to the enjoyment which I believe you will obtain from this recording and its predecessor.

Brian Wilson

Details:

Prologue
Marco UCCELINI La Gran Battaglia [3:37]
Part 1 Rome: 1593-1614
Giovanni Girolamo KAPSBERGER L’onda che limpida Suite [5:44]
Corrente Sesta [1:12]
Capona [2:29]
Benedetto FERRARI Amanti [4:20]
Giovanni Girolamo KAPSBERGER Canzona [2:40]
Domenico MAZZOCCHI Folle Cor [3:28]
Part 2: Florence 1614-1620
Marco GAGLIANO Sinfonia [2:21]
Francesca CACCINI Lasciatemi qui solo [5:26]
Alessandro PICCINI Toccata [1:35]
Francesca CACCINI Chi desia di saper [1:59]
Part 3: Venice 1620-1630
Dario CASTELLO Sonata Prima [4:32]
Claudio MONTEVERDI Et è pur dunque vero [7:22]
Come dolce hoggi l’auretta [3:20]
Francesco CORBETTA Sinfonia a due [3:40]
Part 4: Naples 1630-1638
Andrea FALCONIERI Sinfonia detta la buon’hora [2:14]
Luigi ROSSI Occhi belli [3:01]
Andrea FALCONIERI Folia echa para mi Señora Doña Tarolilla di Carallenos [4:34]
Pietro GIRAMO Festa Riso [1:49]
Part 4: London 1638-1642
Nicholas LANIER Symphonia in G [1:32]
No More Shall Meads be Deck’d with Flow’rs [3:35]
Thou I Am Young [1:58]
Epilogue
Luigi ROSSI Fan battaglia [3:17]




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