It is a studio production with all the benefits of excellent acoustics, perfect balance, no disturbing noises from stage movements or audience reactions and the option to re-record momentary lapses. And there is another advantage: these studio sessions were based on a staged production at the Thesaloniki Concert Hall in March 2008! I suppose this is a misprint. If it is, this is the only error in this wholly delightful production.
La Venexiana has recorded all eight volumes of Monteverdi's madrigals, the Selva morale e spirituale and L'Orfeo. Here we have the Scherzi musicali published in Venice by Bartolomeo Magni in 1632, although pieces from other publications, such as the Arie di diversi raccolte of Vincenti (1634) and the Quarto scherzo delle ariose vaghezze of Milanuzzi (1624) are also included. By way of contrast, the finishing touch is provided by a dazzling and moving rendition of the Lamento di Arianna in an arrangement by Cavina himself, wherein the voice of Emanuela Galli, the star of this disc, is draped in a string ensemble led by Svetlana Fomina.
Ghislieri Choir & Consort is a vocal and instrumental ensemble specialized in Italian sacred music of the 18th century. With regular invitations from major international festivals and prestigious European concert halls; from 2010 the ensemble records for Sony International. The ensemble was born in 2003 in the historic Ghislieri College of Pavia by the meeting between its director, Giulio Prandi, and the musicians Jorge Alberto Guerrero, Maria Cecilia Farina and Marco Bianchi. In addition to the consecrated authors of the late baroque and classical repertoire, with a special predilection for Mozart’s sacred production, the ensemble is passionately devoted to the rediscovery of the sacred Italian repertoire of the 18h century, displaying regularly in concert rare or unpublished works found through constant research work. The recording activity of Ghislieri Choir & Consort is mainly devoted to this repertoire.
This fiery performance of L'incoronazione di Poppea (referred to here as Il Nerone, the title used in Busenello's libretto) is driven by the resonant honesty of the characters' extreme and frequently volatile emotional states, which the soloists convey with singing of exceptional individuality, purity, and tonal beauty. The 2009 recording was made soon after a series of staged performances in France, Germany, and Italy, and it shows; the singers and instrumentalists have the freedom that comes from an easy familiarity with the score and with each other that allows them to perform with a spontaneity that sounds like they are making the music up on the spot. Characterizations are especially strongly drawn, and conductor Claudio Cavina is able to lead the group with the extremely flexible tempos that Monteverdi is known to have advocated. The instrumental ensemble is dominated by plucked strings, so the accompaniment initially sounds somewhat twangy and brittle, but the program notes make a strong case for the historical precedent for the use of these instruments, and the ear eventually adjusts to the sound.
The chamber cantata flourished in Italy as a counterpart to public opera and oratorio, cultivated by aristocratic patrons for their personal enjoyment. Perhaps because of its essentially private origins, this pervasive Baroque form remains little known today. During his years in Italy (1706-1710), George Frideric Handel composed nearly 100 cantatas for a series of important patrons, but they have tended to be passed over in favor of his larger operas, oratorios, concertos and orchestral suites. The plan of La Risonanza to perform and record all of the cantatas with instrumental accompaniment (about one-third of the total) is therefore of signal importance for all music lovers, as it will bring this extraordinarily beautiful music once again to life (2006-2009).
It could be argued that Händel’s Giulio Cesare is, in a sense, the La Bohème of Baroque opera: surely performed both more frequently and more widely afield than any of Händel’s other operas, Giulio Cesare is the most popular of Händel’s operas and the one that is most known even by audiences with limited exposure to Baroque opera. This familiarity led to the long-held assumption that Giulio Cesare was likewise the finest of Händel’s operatic scores, a supposition that has been challenged during the past two decades by more frequent – and more impressive – performances of Händel’s lesser-known operas…