The members of the ensemble La Venexiana won in 1994 the Gramophone Award for Early Music under the name Concerto Italiano. They are some of the most experienced European performers in the early music field, and have been singing together for many years, establishing a new style in Italian early music performances: a warm, truly Mediterranean blend of textual declamation, textural color and harmonic refinement. This repertoire seems to be created as if to let them fully show their expressive powers. Barbara Strozzi's talent shines in this pieces, designed to show her excepcional dramatic powers and unique gifts for musical imaginery. Many of these madrigals have the appearance of a succession of operatic scenes in miniature, each with its particular dramatic atmosphere and with the participation of several soloists.
Mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozená's collection of vocal solos (plus a few instrumental tracks) from the early Baroque, Lettere Amorose, "Love Letters," is a delight. The recital includes some familiar pieces like d'India's Cruda Amarilli, Monteverdi's Sì dolce è il tormento, and Sanz's giddy dance, Canarios, but consists largely of repertoire that's more obscure but no less engaging. Merula's lullaby chaconne Hor ch'è tempo di dormire is a jewel, gorgeously idiosyncratic and deeply emotional. Caccini's erotic Odi, Euterpe, 'I dolce canto could be mistaken for mature Monteverdi at his most mischievous, but it dates from 1601 or 1602, when Monteverdi was at an early stage in his career. A real standout of the album is Strozzi's L'Eraclito amoroso: Udite amanti, which alternates sections of extravagantly expressive recitative with a ravishingly lyrical chaconne. Kozená easily has the technique to make the music glow and the dramatic gifts to bring it movingly to life. Her sharply characterized interpretations of the songs make each of them seem as fully realized and potent as a short operatic scene. Her voice has the burnished warmth of a mezzo, but can gleam when she soars into her upper register, and throughout she maintains an exquisite purity.
Serena along with Regina Albanez on theorbo and baroque guitar and Pauline Schenk on harpsichord recorded the CD "Udite, amanti" (Listen, dear ones!). The CD is an anthology of early Baroque songs by composers such as Monteverdi, Merula, Strozzi, Caccini and Lambert. Inja Botden accompanies three songs along on baroque cello and guest tenor Georgi Sztojanov will sing two duets with Serena.