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Like the chamber cantata, the chamber duet played a major role in cultivated private music-making in Italy during the 17th- and early 18th-centuries. Its undoubted father was the polymath Agostino Steffani (1654–1728), singer, composer, bishop and diplomat, whose exquisitely wrought duets exerted an influence scarcely less than that of Corelli’s trio sonatas.

The present CD includes three of Steffani’s duets, along with two each by Giovanni Bononcini and Antonio Lotti. Duets, usually an alternation of aria form and shared recitative, were invariably composed for the high voices especially valued during this period, thus being suitable for women or castrati. This scoring also encouraged the sensual weaving of two high voices, a much loved conceit appropriate for amorous texts and here employed from the outset in Steffani’s ravishing Begl’occhi, oh Dio, where the two voices engage in loving, imitative embrace.

The recording stems from the work of the great contralto Sara Mingardo with a group of young singers in a didactic project, Barocco Europeo. Mingardo herself sings in three of the duets and also contributes a solo, a searing lament by Francesco Lucio (1628–1658). Otherwise these beautifully fashioned and ravishing performances are in the hands of sopranos Lisa Castrignanò, Giorgia Cinciripi and Silvia Frigato; mezzos Loriana Castellano, Lea Desandre and Lucia Napoli; and contralto Francesca Biliotti, discreetly supported by the continuo ensemble Cenacolo Musicale. Highlights abound, but here it must suffice to conclude that the CD is not only testimony to the artistry of Sara Mingardo, but also her inspirational development of a group of truly outstanding young singers.

Brian Robins Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2017 - ©Rhinegold Publishing