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These two discs present almost entirely different programmes but aren’t all that dissimilar, actually: in both, the emphasis is on the virtuosity of the singers, with subtle and supple drive coming from the continuo instruments.

Countertenor José Lemos’ rich voice ravishes the ear in luscious numbers such as Monteverdi’s ‘Se dolce è’l tormento’; he’s not unagile vocally, either, and handles later, more ornate works with artful effortlessness. (One particularly noteworthy item is Merula’s extraordinary ‘Canzonetta spirituale’, a lullaby sung by the Virgin Mary to the infant Jesus, whose beautiful text unfolds over a gently insistent two-note ground bass.) My only reservation with regard to this disc is that such a small continuo group – only harpsichord and theorbo – doesn’t offer enough textural variety throughout; however, the instrumental solos are excellent.

In TENET, the instruments comprise two violins, theorbo, tiorbino, baroque guitar and harpsichord; and the richer aural possibilities afforded by the larger continuo team make for much more captivating listening. Here, too, is splendid instrumental playing, particularly Hank Heijink’s performance of Kapsberger’s ‘Toccata arpeggiata’. However, the vocal items are too strait- laced – the livelier numbers a little cautious, the slower ones not given enough space to unravel and enthral. Monteverdi’s famous ciaccona, ‘Zefiro torna’, is too four-square, and the sopranos don’t fly off the handle as they ought to in the quicksilver runs of Monteverdi’s ‘Quel sguardo sdegnosetto’ and ‘Ohimè, ch’io cado’; ‘Pur ti miro’ from Poppea ends the disc, but doesn’t go far enough in its playing with our sense of time passing, or in milking dissonances for all they’re worth. A shame, as there are some lovely pieces on this disc by less well-known composers that don’t quite receive the ardency of advocacy that they deserve.

Adrian Horsewood Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2014 - ©Rhinegold Publishing