Naïve Records have struck gold with this stunning collection of early music songs. With music from Monteverdi, Handel, Scarlatti and others, this CD has the perfect combination of sublime, tender phrases with fast, exhilarating coloratura. Performing the works are the renowned early music specialists Sonia Prina (contralto) and Roberta Invernizzi (soprano). Both women are known for their intelligent and well researched performances, and for their formidable vocal athleticism. Accompanying them are the Ensemble Claudiana, lead by Luca Pianca, who will be accompanying Sonia Prina at her Wigmore Hall concert on 30th Dec.
The CD is dominated by the giant figure of Monteverdi. The opening duet, "Interrotte Speranze" is from the Seventh Book of Madrigals published in 1619. The opening unison phrase by Invernizzi and Prina, is followed by a sinuous, snake-like intertwining of voices, as the soprano and the contralto dance around each other in close harmony. The decision to let Prina’s penultimate “mio” hang in the air, pausing before Invernizzi’s entrance on the final phrase, adds powerfully to the drama of the piece.
Another piece from the Seventh Book of Madrigals is “Ohimè, dov’è il mio ben” and “vorrei bacarti”. “Ohimè, dov’è il mio ben” is split into four parts. The end of the first section sees Prina’s contralto scored above Invernizzi’s soprano, adding an interesting texture. In the third section, Invernizzi floats a gorgeous pianissimo Eb5 on the phrase “in me più che’l”, while the final section saw Prina descend to rock solid G3 on the word “morte”.
The highlight of the CD is the magnificent “Pur ti Miro”, the closing duet from Monteverdi’s operaL’incoronazione di Poppea. In the A section, Prina and Invernizzi are the epitome of sensual tenderness, their voices dancing playfully and skilfully through Monteverdi’s tender music. Check out the immaculate semitone dissonance on the phrase “più non peno/più non moro”.
"Mentre vaga Angioletta" comes from Monteverdi’s Eighth Book of Madrigals. After an extended solo entrance by Prina, she and Invernizzi alternate between exquisitely precise coloratura, and haunting chromatic lines reminiscent of Purcell. The sublime moment of the piece comes on the phrase “mormorando in basso, e mobil suono” as Prina and Invernizzi sing in close harmony, crossing parts every second note. The execution of the broken coloratura on the phrase “hor la raffrena” is again testament to the skill of the two performers.
The other “big gun” on the CD is Handel, represented with two duets. “Tanti strali”, sees Prina exercise her wonderful lower register, with a couple of phrases in the third section lying almost exclusively below the stave. The middle section of the duet is indicative of Handel’s melodic and harmonic genius, with several spine-tingling suspensions, and a novel resolution on the words “arsa e consunta”. The interplay between Prina and Invernizzi is perfectly measured, with Invernizzi producing several beautiful highpianissimi.
The CD also features one aria each by Marcello, Lotti, and Durnate, and a sonata by Domenico Scarlatti. Luca Pianca and the Ensemble Claudiana are exemplary throughout the recording. Pianca’s well researched and intuitive direction brings out the best in all the performers, and brings to the fore aspects of the two major composers which would otherwise have been lost. His use of dynamics to emphasise certain words and structural parts of the compositional texture is genius, and works particularly well given the “stripped down” quality of the accompaniment. Amore e morte dell’amore is a "must have" this summer.
Following on from the success of her wonderful Colore d'Amore album, which featured the original Bononcini version of "Ombra mai fu," German coloratura soprano Simone Kermes brings more forgotten Baroque gems back from obscurity and into the light of the 21st Century Baroque revival. With two thirds of the music receiving its world premier recording, Dramma (named after the 18th Century inscription found on opera librettos) is definitely another major step forward in our understanding of the music of this exciting and virtuosic era. The Baroque singers who performed this music were the superstars of their day, with the castrato Caffarelli earning enough money to buy a Dukedom!
The explosive start to the album is provided by the sensational "Per trionfar pugnando" from Giuseppe De Majo's Arianna e Teseo. Kermes takes the already demanding two-and-a-half octave vocal range, A3 to D6, and adds multiple ornaments above the stave, including her trademark E6. Her movement throughout the long lines of coloratura is as accurate as ever, and Kermes brings an increased smoothness to the lower passagio. The nod to the vinyl era at the beginning of the aria was a nice touch. Below is the fiendish cadenza, repeated twice throughout the aria, running across the three registers from F#5 down to A3, then up to D6. (The cadenza is written on the C "Soprano" Clef, which puts middle C on the first line of the stave, hence all notes are written two tones higher than if they were on the G clef).
Several other Baroque composers are given the Kermes treatment on the album. The talented Johan Adolf Hasse, whose admirers included Alessandro Scarlatti, J. S. Bach and Haydn, is represented by two complementary arias. "Fra cento affanni e cento" from Artaserse is typical Hasse: fast, demanding and utterly entertaining - I look forward to seeing her perform this live in concert! The beautiful "Consola il genitore" from "L'Olimpiade" is an altogether different beast. Its high tessitura, long phrases and gentle triplets make it a most difficult piece to sing, yet so rewarding when sung correctly, as it is here. Below is one of the high triplet phrases, rising to C6, again on the C clef.
The rapid staccato intervals of Leonardo Leo’s “Son qual nave in ria procella” from Zenobia in Palmiraare a perfect vehicle for Kermes' coloratura soprano. The end of the A section has a wonderful bouncing ascending line from Bb3 to Bb5, to which a D6 is added in the Da Capo. The equally challenging "Sul mio cor" from Pergolesi's Adriano in Siria has Kermes dancing across the registers with ease. Opening with a two octave descending phrase, the vitality of the piece contrasts nicely with the tender, sparsely orchestrated B-section, which Kermes treats with delicate intimacy. Particularly noteworthy is the phrase "Io potrei del tuo rossore."
Another Adriano in Siria, this time by Geminiano Giacomelli, gives us the aria "Se non ti moro a lato." This is a much gentler piece, containing Giacomelli's trademark extended phrases which tax the singer by their demands on the breath, rather than by their athleticism. Handel's "Lascia ch'io pianga" fromRinaldo requires even greater control, precision and sustained piano and pianissimo singing to impress - qualities which Kermes delivers with style. I was worried about the inclusion of both this aria and Porpora's "Alto Giove," as they have been performed many times before, but Kermes manages to bring something new to the table in both cases.
The rest of the arias on the CD are taken from the works of Nicola Porpora, the teacher of Farinelli, Caffarelli and Porporino. The beautiful "Alto giove" from Polifemo is intelligently and intuitively performed by Kermes, who adds a simple yet chilling ornament to the start of the Da Capo. Hermessa di voce in the initial vowel of the aria is excellent. The wide intervals and long lines of perfectly executed rapid coloratura in "Vedra turbato il mare" (Mitridate) call up the raging torrents of the sea, while the stark, exposed vocal line in "Tace l'augello" from Agrippina is full of melancholic longing.
"Le limpid'onde" from Ifigenia in Aulide is the token "Pastorale" on the album. Kermes uses some intense dynamic effects which provide added colour to the simple piece, with some sublime moments in the Da Capo. Lastly, Kermes presents us with two arias from Il Germanico. The first, "Empi se mai disciolgo," is a fast and furious aria which Kermes blasts through with gusto and fire. The coloratura is taken at breakneck speed, which makes the aria even more thrilling. The final aria on the album is "Serba, serba, costante, costante" which, while not as demanding as some of the arias, nevertheless leaves one with a wonderful upbeat feeling: a fitting end to this fantastic album.
When I first heard Julia Lezhneva, I had no idea what to expect. It was in a concert performance of Vivaldi’s Ottone in Villa. What I heard blew me away. Lezhneva, at the age of only 20, was able to hold her own amidst such seasoned performers as Roberta Invernizzi and Sonia Prina. She had excellent control of her instrument, fluid coloratura, and a mature confidence. Perhaps that should not surprise, as Lezhneva has been competing in vocal competitions since the age of twelve, and made her professional debut at the age of 16, as the soprano soloist in Mozart’s Requiem. Since then, she has successfully interpreted music from many different periods. This latest project, her first solo recording, is of Opera arias by Rossini.
Announcing her presence with bang, the first aria, “Tanti affetti” from La Donna del Lago, is one of the two highlights of the album. Here we see Lezhneva’s excellent coloratura skills, with extended ornaments, stunning breath control, and two phenomenal two octave dives from Bb5 to Bb3. The register changes are managed with style, smooth in the runs, thundering in the dives, and are performed without resorting to screaming/barking at either end of the range. The fluidity of her coloratura throughout the range is also undeniable in “Bel raggio lunsinghieri” from Semiramide. Here, Lezhneva give us some real, solid soprano notes, well above the stave. Her trill is also on display, and it is very good – probably as a result of her Baroque work. The coloratura tour de force "Della fortuna istabile...Nacqui all'affanno" from La Cenerentola is masterfully performed, with precision in the faster sections, and a richness in the lower voice carried down to the low G3’s (this aria was originally performed by contralto Geltrude Righetti).
We hear a darker, more reflective Lezhneva in "Assisa a' pie d'un salice" from Otello. The smoky-darkness of her voice offsets beautifully the tender sounds of the harp. Without the fireworks of the previous arias, it is Lezhneva’s sensitive phrasing and dynamics which have the power to draw on the emotions. This can again be heard in "Ils 'éloignent enfin" from Guillaume Tell, where the urgent power of the recitative flows into the beautiful melancholy of the aria, and where the long, lilting phrases and gentle touches on the ornamentation convey the sadness of an aching heart. Compared to the previous two arias, "L'ora fatal s'apressa" from L'assedio Di Corinto, the second highlight of the album, is on another level. So complete is the characterisation, and so subtle are the inflections of the voice, that the last few seconds of silence on the recording still ring with the final phrase, “implorar la tua pietà”.
A nice touch is the addition of the Sinfonia from La Cenerentola towards the end of the disk. The musicians of Sinfonia Varsovia play with great animation, under the expert hand of Marc Minkowski. The interplay between Sinfonia Varsovia, Minkowski and Lezhneva is truly organic, showing just how good Minkowski is. His understanding of the contrasting Rossini pieces offered in this collection is both erudite and well communicated, giving a sense of authenticity to the recording. This is a CD definitely worth having, and Julia Lezhneva is a Soprano to watch.
The recording was produced for the Naïve record label: click here to see the official webpage. Also, check out this promo video below.