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The secular cantata was one of the most intimate and refined Baroque forms of chamber music. Generally composed for discerning connoisseurs and performed before sophisticated audiences, it had little or no place in public music-making. Yet today such works are far too frequently sung as if they are operatic scenas.

That is not a trap to ensnare the experienced Canadian soprano Dominique Labelle, whose enchanting performances of Italian cantatas by Steffani and Handel (the work that gives the CD its title), and Rameau’s Orphée are informed by a musicality constantly alive to the nuances of both musical and verbal syntax. She is especially impressive in Steffani’s Guardati o core where the predominantly playful mood is beautifully caught, but tellingly exchanged for sensual cantabile of the final brief aria, which Labelle climaxes with a ravishing mezzo voce. The only minor reservation is that ornaments might have been more precisely articulated, an observation that applies particularly to the Rameau.

Labelle is splendidly supported by Musica Pacifica, one of North America’s finest period chamber groups, who on their own account give performances of a trio sonata in B minor by Giuseppe Sammartini for violin, recorder and continuo (Op.6 No.1) and Telemann, the third of the Nouveaux Quatuors published in Paris in 1738, a captivating work whose most characterful movement is the Modéré, a polonaise replete with hurdy-gurdy effects. The performances are exemplary but for an over-active continuo guitar in the Sammartini’s third movement. Nonetheless this first-rate CD presents not only persuasive performances but a thoroughly attractive programme in its own right.

Brian Robins Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2017 - ©Rhinegold Publishing