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One of the 17th century’s outstanding composers, Barbara Strozzi published eight volumes of vocal music in Venice between 1644 and 1664. Of the seven that survive, one was devoted to madrigals (op. 1), one to sacred music (op. 5), and five to secular cantatas and arias, ranging from droll put-downs of Cupid to the passionate and heartbreaking lamenti that secured her fame. This disc draws exclusively from her op. 2 (1651) and features mostly shorter pieces, though it does include both ‘Gite ò giorni dolenti’, which pointedly celebrates the end of the Thirty Years War (and might pass today as an anti-war protest song), and the lovely ‘L’amante segreto’, a fine example of Strozzi’s innovative cantata style, where she combines expressive recitative, adroit word-painting and melismatic melody lines in a lyrical stream of consciousness.

Of the shorter works here, ‘Begl’occhi, bel seno’ stands out for the captivating beauty of Strozzi’s music, which matches the text’s extravagant (and anonymous) poetry. Canadians Peggy Bélanger and Michel Angers perform many of these songs as soprano-theorbo duos, making them a little too austere for my taste, as is the bright purity of Bélanger’s voice. Readers who share my predilection for more variegated (and sensuous) vocal/instrumental colouring might like to try the Strozzi discs by Susanne Rydén (Harmonia Mundi) and Cristiana Presutti (Aeon).

Graham Lock Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2015 - ©Rhinegold Publishing