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Laudazioni Alla Vergine Maria: Bel Canto Songs of the Virgin Mary
Ensemble ‘L’armonia del Belcanto’
Heidemarie Röttig (soprano)
Angela Metzger (organ)
rec. 2016, St Mary’s Cathedral, Wurzen, Germany
RONDEAU ROP6139 [60.37]

This is an unusual programme, if only because of the number of little-known composers represented. Other than Bellini, I was unfamiliar with the remainder of these names. Barili, who settled in the United States, was half-brother to Adelina Patti, worked principally as a teacher and is represented by few surviving works. Even less known is St. Clair, except that he served as an organist at St. John’s Church, New York. A quick Google search yields a mass of information on the eponymous football player, but little on the composer.

One of the joys of the modern era is CDs such as this which broaden our knowledge of the lesser-known. The various pieces are well-made and do not outstay their welcome. None is very musically adventurous, but many are very charming. I enjoyed especially the Barili Ave Maria, not least for the careful balance of voice and organ. The St. Clair is longer, and has a striking introduction, but is otherwise quite conventional.

For me the real highlight was the the Candotti Sinfonia, one of three pieces for organ alone. These have all been previously recorded, but Angela Metzger is a splendid interpreter, with insight, elegance and - as in the Petralli – buoyancy, even wit. The three-manual Wurzen Cathedral Organ (built by Jemlich of Dresden) was built on 1932, and has several times been renewed, most recently in 2016. The acoustic is a little cavernous at times, but not distractingly so. (The cathedral itself dates from the early 12th Century)

L’armonia del Belcanto were also unknown to me. Specialising in religious music of the bel canto period, the duo perform principally in church settings. The sense of joyous teamwork is palpable. Heidemarie Röttig has a bell-like, rather young voice, occasionally a touch strained in lower registers, but is a thoughtful interpreter. As often with bel canto singers, diction is not always clear, but this is partly the nature of the repertoire.

This CD is one to which I will return, and with a keen sense of enjoyment.

Michael Wilkinson

Salverio MERCADANTE (1795-1870)
Salve Maria [5.55]
Maurizio G. GIANNETTI (fl. 1874-1876)
Salve Regina [4.50]
Giovanni Battista CANDOTTI (1809-1876)
Sinfonia 22, op.142 [6.55]
Ettore BARILI (1828-1895)
Ave Maria [3.55]
Charles G. St. CLAIR (fl.1855-1875)
Ave Maria [8.14]
Vincenzo PETRALI (1830-1889)
Suonata per la consumazione [4.18]
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
Salve Regina [5.11]
Claudio CONTI (1836-1878)
Salve Maria [4.29]
Antonio DIANA (1815-1876)
Polonese [6.19]
Ranieri VILLANOVA (1827-1913)
Ave Maria [6.00]
Giuseppe NICOLAO (1825-1905)
Ave Maria [4.41]



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