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Barbara STROZZI (1619 - 1677): Ariette a voce sola op. 6, 1657

Tadashi Miroku, alto; Silvia Rambaldi, harpsichord

rec: August 2009, Ferrara, Museo Archeologico
Tactus - TC 616901 (© 2011) (59'26")
Liner-notes: E/I/J; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

Che sì può fare?; Compatite (Amante segreto); Desistete (Soliloquio alli suoi pensieri); Filli mia che mi ferì (Instabilità di Filli); Lilla dici ch'io non t'amo (A Lilla che si dole ch'io non l'amo); Non pavento (Amante fedele); Non ti doler cor mio (Barbara crudeltà); Respira mio core (B.D. che batte il focile); Risolvetevi pensieri (Val esser costante)

Barbara Strozzi is one of the most intriguing composers of the 17th century. Her music is well represented in the catalogue, and that doesn't surprise considering its quality. The fact that she was a woman has been used as an additional reason to pay attention to her compositions. At that time it was highly unusual for a woman to compose. At least, that is the general opinion. In fact, the situation was a bit different, as Nicola Badolato writes in the liner-notes to this recording. There were quite a number of female singers in Italy in Strozzi's time who sang their own compositions. But these were never printed, and therefore we don't know them. That is why Barbara Strozzi is unique: between 1644 and 1664 eight collections were printed, ranging from madrigals for three to five voices (opus 1) to arias for solo voice and basso continuo (opus 8). All but one of these collections have been preserved; only opus 4 has been lost.

As one would expect there is a strong feminist aspect in the interest in Strozzi and her music, just as is the case with Hildegard von Bingen. Those who see Barbara Strozzi as a kind of forerunner of feminism will probably be disappointed by the way she presented her music, for instance in the dedication of her opus 2 to Ferdinand III of Austria and Elena Gonzaga: "From the worthless mine of a woman's humble brain there cannot come metal suitable for making rich golden crowns for the glory of august personages". It should also be noticed that her father Giulio was instrumental in the development of her career as a singer and composer. Without his support we probably wouldn't have heard about her. That is what could well have been the difference between Strozzi and other female singer-composers of her time.

In the end the sole reason why her music deserves attention is its musical quality. This was recognized in her time as is proved by the fact that some of her pieces were included in anthologies, alongside compositions by the likes of Cavalli, Rovetta and Cazzati. With the exception of her opus 5 all compositions are of a secular character. The authors of most texts are not named, but among those who are mentioned her father Giulio figures alongside other poets from Venice.

The pieces printed as the opus 6 - from which here a selection is presented as 'world premiere recordings' - are called ariette. This suggests a specific form, but in fact the ariettas are very different in form. Some texts are strophic, others are not, but that is not decisive for the way Strozzi has set them to music. She creates her own structure through musical means, as Nicola Badolato writes. "With the attitude of a miniaturist, she creates spacious, complex arias even out of very short texts." Elements like repetition, shifts in rhythm and the inclusion of recitativic passages all serve the expression of the text. That is one of the reasons that Strozzi's music is captivating.

It is unfortunate that this doesn't really come off in this recording. Let me first highlight a couple of things regarding the interpretation. Tadashi Miroku is announced as controtenore (countertenor), but he regularly moves well into the soprano range. All solo pieces by Barbara Strozzi are scored for soprano, reflecting the fact that she has written them first and foremost for her own performance. I don't know if they have been transposed in this recording. Miroku's singing is not very different from that of those singers who present themselves as sopranist. Also notable is the fact that all ariettas are preceded by short keyboard pieces, taken from a 17th-century source which is now in the library of the Vatican in Rome. It is an interesting aspect of this recording which seems to reflect the performance practice in the baroque era. It should also be noticed that Silvia Rambaldi prefers a strong, full-blooded realisation of the basso continuo, according to the views of her teacher Jesper Christensen.

This is especially noteworthy because it greatly contributes to one of the significant aspects of these performances: the general loudness. Tadashi Miroku goes mostly full speed ahead. He usually sings forte, with only now and then forays into the mezzo forte range. There are no piano passages, and in general I have the impression that the text is treated in a not too differentiated way. That is hard to asses, though, as the booklet includes the lyrics but omits English translations. The last piece of the programme, Che si può fare, is the only one I can remember having heard before, and in a more subtle way than it is presented here. Moreover, too little attention has been given to articulation: the singing is mostly straightforward, and not very speechlike as was the ideal of Strozzi's time. The acoustic circumstances are not very helpful. The distant miking and the swimming pool locale are at odds with the intimacy this music requires. As a result the text is not that easy to understand.

As captivating as the repertoire is, and despite the unmistakeable qualities of Miroku's singing and Ms Rambaldi's playing this recording does not do real justice to Barbara Strozzi's music. Please take note that tracks 5 and 6 have been swapped in the track-list.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

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