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No such interpretative problems for Dorothea Röschmann, who manages to create more atmosphere with her voice alone in her song recital CD, Portraits, devoted to a range of female characters. She is supported by Malcolm Martineau at the keyboard, who retains admirable tension in even the simplest passages. Röschmann displays many great attributes: she is singing in her native German, her diction is exemplary and she digs into the texts; her tone is capable of a variety of colours, her dynamic control is greatly skilled. She switches from Schubert’s Gretchen to Schumann’s Mary, Queen of Scots, through a selection of Strauss to Wolf ’s Mignon. The profundity of her Schumann contrasts beautifully with the more shimmering tone she employs for Strauss. Crisply recorded, there is some slight background noise, birdsong not being entirely inappropriate for Strauss’s Morgen. My copy was, alas, missing the text for the Wolf, and I have to take umbrage at Mary, Queen of Scots, being dismissed in the booklet as ‘a power-hungry intriguer who would stop at nothing to achieve her nefarious ends’. Really?

Providing a contrast to Röschmann’s refulgent outpourings we have Roger Padullés’s Rosenblatt Recitals disc of Mompou Songs, where the singer is accompanied sensitively by Iain Burnside. And sensitive really is the word, as these pieces require the skill of balancing a delicate sensibility and poetry whilst anchoring them so that they don’t dissolve completely. Who better to achieve this than Padullés, whose Catalan flair and elegant tenor are used to idiomatic effect in interpreting his compatriot Mompou’s almost elusive songs. Padullés displays a winning way with his texts and a seemingly easy sense of line. Admittedly this music won’t be for everyone, but if you enjoy 20th-century mélodies then this really is worth investigating to widen your experience of a comparable style. A quiet gem.

Another rarity is Niobe, Regina de Tebe, Agostino Steffani’s opera, premiered in Munich in 1688. Recently dusted offand in the process of being given a range of productions in various performing versions, it is aiding a revaluation of the composer, roughly a contemporary of Scarlatti’s. It’s a long and complicated plot, gathering well over three hours of music in its wake, but boils down to Niobe being punished for her pride in her 14 children by having the gods slay them, after which she is turned to stone. There are myriad subplots and complications, hence the length. (The unfortunate infants are called the Niobids – trust me that I’m not making this up, look to Ovid, from whose Metamorphoses Steffani’s version of the story comes.)

The opera consists of a plethora of numbers, mainly short arias, interspersed with recitative and the occasional orchestral piece. Some of the effects are wonderfully startling, ranging from almost dissonant percussive effects to complex harmonic resolutions – though admittedly a lot of the music is not so interesting. This recording is excellent, unusual in being led by two directors, Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs of the Boston Early Music Festival, and the sound is lush. The cast is also strong, with Karina Gauvin using her force of personality and adamantine soprano to full effect in the title role, and Philippe Jaroussky as her husband and king, Anfione, providing limpidity and technical assurance, if not quite capturing the bravura element of the character. Amanda Forsythe is a contrasted and attractively crisp soprano as Manto, and her achievements here demonstrate why she went on to assume the title role in a later production. The rest of the cast is equally accomplished. If you’re interested in Baroque opera and would like to judge for yourself whether Steffani should become a better known composer, then this is a great opportunity to investigate.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica


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