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Barbara STROZZI (1619 - 1677): "Passioni, Vizi & Virt - Cantate e Ariette, opera seconda"

Consort Baroque Laurentia

rec: Nov 29 - 31, 2012, Nomaglio (TO), San Salvatore
Stradivarius - Str33948 ( 2013) (72'54")
Liner-notes: E/F/I; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list

Alessandro PICCININI (1566-1638): Toccata XIII; Barbara STROZZI: Amor dormiglione; Begl'occhi, bel seno; Chiamata nuovi amori; Costume de grandia; Gite giorni dolenti; Giusta negativa; Il Romeo; L'amante bugiardo; L'amante consolato; L'amante segreto; L'eraclito amoroso; L fanciulletta semplice; La travagliata; La vendettaa; La sol f, mi, r, d; Lilla crudele ad onta d'amore; Tr le speranze e'l timore

Source: Cantate, ariette e duetti, op. 2, 1651

Peggy Blanger, soprano; Daniele Bragetti, Seiko Tanaka, recordera; Sabina Colonna Preti, viola da gamba; Michel Angers, theorbo, guitar

Barbara Strozzi's oeuvre is fairly well represented in the catalogue. Part of the attraction is the fact that she was one of the very few female composers of the 17th century. However, since the discovery of her music we have learnt that she was not the only one. In fact, she had quite a number of colleagues. Most of them were nuns, and composed sacred music to be performed in their own convents. Strozzi is different in that the largest part of her output is secular, and that she performed her own music in public. Although she was widely admired her reputation was not above reproach. It is very likely that she was an offspring of an extra-marital affair of her biological father, Giulio Strozzi, and her own children were also born outside marriage.

Giulio Strozzi did everything to further her career, and also made her his only heir. It didn't prevent her from living on a small scale. In a letter from December 1651 addressed to the tax authorities of Venice she states that if she had to pay the special tax for the War of Candia (1645-1669) she would have to live on charity.

In 1644 her first collection of music was printed, comprising madrigals for two to five voices and basso continuo. The last was published in 1664 as her op. 8, a collection of arias for solo voice and bc. That is also the scoring of most of the pieces in her op. 2, printed in 1651. It includes 15 arias and six cantatas for solo voice and five duets. It was dedicated to Ferdinand III, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and Eleanor Gonzaga, at the occasion of their wedding in 1651. It explains the inclusion of Gite giorni dolenti which specifically refers to the Thirty Years' War, one of the things he inherited from his father and which he wanted to bring to an end. The closing lines of this piece calls to mind the Peace of Westphalia which ended the war: "And the August Ones have never given a stronger sign of the return of the Golden Age seeing as they have begun favouring the muses again".

It is a piece which is vintage Barbara Strozzi, which eloquent text expression, for instance in the imitation of trumpets and of "sounds of blazing war". Strozzi also uses the tessitura of the voice to maximum effect: the voice suddenly moves to the lower part of its range on the words "in terra". The same happens in the closing line of L'eraclito Amoroso on the word "sotterrimi" - buries me. Silence is used in the last lines of the B-part of Amor dormiglione: "That you may sleep, Cupid, it was only missing that!".

Barbara Strozzi was a pupil of Francesco Cavalli which means that she grew up in the monodic tradition established by Giulio Caccini. But Cavalli represented the second generation: in his operas he introduced lyric elements which would develop later in the century into the aria, increasingly distinctive from the recitative. The same manifests itself in Strozzi's oeuvre. This disc includes several strophic pieces with a more lyrical character. In some of these a couple of lines are repeated as a kind of refrain. The most purely monodic piece in a free rhythmic style is L'Amante segreto.

The music of Barbara Strozzi is technically demanding but the requirements in regard to style are even more challenging. A singer must be able to master the art of recitar cantando, needs to add ornaments in the style of the time, and this music also asks for an effective application of dynamic contrasts, in the interest of expression. I am happy to say that Perry Blanger meets all these requirements. Although not a native Italian speaker she seems to feel very much at home in this music. She delivers a truly rhetorical, speech-like performance. The application of dynamic shading, and especially the use of the messa di voce, is often disappointing in performances of repertoire like this. Not here, though: the particularly emotional parts of the text get full weight which is crucial to bring about the expressive character of these pieces. There are few light-hearted items, but most arias are about the trials and tribulations of love. The cantata La sol f, mi, r, d is quite ironic, and that comes off well too. The support of Michel Angers is substantial; the dynamic possibilities of the theorbo are very appropriate here. Only in some strophic pieces the viola da gamba participates, which emphasizes the rhythm. According to the work-list in New Grove the pieces in this collection are for voice(s) and basso continuo alone, but there are some pieces with two parts for violins. These are played here on recorders, which is theoretically legitimate, but I think that violins are more suitable.

I don't know whether the pieces on this disc have been recorded before. But it doesn't really matter: this disc is a valuable addition to the discography anyway.

Johan van Veen ( 2014)

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