CD REVIEW

Le Madonne Lagrimanti
Songs, Plaints and Cantatas from Early 17th Century Italy.
Andrew O'Connor
International Record Review May 2005


Caccini Vedrò'l mio sol. Fillide mia. Fili, mirando il cielo. Carissimi Ferma lascia ch'io parlo. Frescobaldi Dove, dove Signor. Oscure selve. Aria di passacaglia. Dopo si lungo error.
A piè della gran croce. Gagliano É morto, il tuo Signore. Tu languisci e tu mori. Gioite, gioite. Sigismondo d'India Piange Madonna. O del cielo d'amor.
Monteverdi Pianto della Madonna. Saracini Tra la pompe di Morte. Aspra fu la ferita.
Nancy Long mezzo-soprano
Tragicomedia
Stephen Stubbs, lute
Andrew Lawrence-King, harp/ chamber organ;
Erin Headley, viola da gamba/ lirone

London Independent Records UR007
(medium price, 1 hour 3 minutes).
Italian texts and English translations included.
Website www.london independent.co.uk.
Producer/Engineer
Jan Vanwelkenhuysen.
Dates January 19th and 20th, 1988

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This CD, released 17 years after being recorded by American mezzo-soprano Nancy Long, accompanied by Tragicomedia in its first outing on disc, is both welcome and timely. Welcome, because it is almost a demonstration disc on how to perform florid songs and dramatic laments from the Italian early Baroque. Timely, because, in a world where Guillemette Laurens can be treated as a credible interpreter of seventeenth-century music, it is a reminder of how far historically informed singing had developed before it entered its current state of decline.


The programme consists of solo voice masterpieces, both large and small, of the generations around Monteverdi. The centrepiece is Monteverdi's Pianto della Madonna, a religious contrafactum of his popular and influential Lamento d'Arianna. Frankly, I could live without another recording of this piece. It is a superb musical edifice, but it has been recorded numerous times and, as this disc reminds us, there are many other as yet little-known musical riches from this period. I particularly treasure the three short pieces by the unjustly ignored Marco da Gagliano and Frescobaldi's splendid monodic songs (the rather sniffy treatment his vocal music often receives from reviewers and musicologists baffles me). The only piece to rival (or indeed exceed) the scale of Monteverdi's Pianto is Carissimi's rarely heard Lament for Mary Queen of Scots, Ferma lascia ch'io parlo. This marvellous piece of Counter-Reformation propaganda treats Mary as both martyr and operatic heroine and hurls some fine invective at the villainous Queen Elizabeth: 'Oh, proud Jezebel, await the blows of severe Justice! And if the wild beasts have not sharp claws or enough bites to tear you to pieces, your own remorse will torment you as wild dogs.'
Long's voice is an amazing instrument - with each musical and textual change it can be hushed and sweet or penetrating and raw-edged, contemplative and devout or bursting with righteous anger (as in the Carissimi work). She also has a complete mastery of the very taxing early Baroque ornamentation these pieces demand. The abandoned and shuddering vibrato-laden delivery of singers such as Laurens is often defended on the grounds that it is 'dramatic'. An artist like Long needs no such histrionics to penetrate the heart of these works or her audience. All young aspiring Baroque singers should study this disc closely. The rest of us can sit back and marvel at the artistry it contains.

 

Andrew O'Connor
International Record Review May 2005