The Secret Lover
American Record Guide
In Northern Italy, the singing women were a secret, advertised only to a select circle of noble auditors. They were Sirens. They excelled at the late Renaissance ideal of “sprezzatura”, the artful nonchalance of performing very difficult tasks with apparent ease.
This very fine program is a modern manifestation of “the singing ladies” (concerto delle donne) where all partners in the recording are treated as equals. In a fitting conceit, the imaginatively-designed booklet interlaces biographies of the composers, performers (from both the 17th and 21st Centuries), photographer, and others involved in this release. The 18 pieces are both varied and unified: varied in forces (instrumental and vocal) and in time (one piece is by the young American composer Caroline Shaw, born in 1982); unified in spirit and in tone.
All the performances are first-rate, from cascading virtuosity in the solo harpsichord toccatas and the beauty of accompanied solo soprano in Sigismondo D’India’s ‘Piagono Al Pianger Mio’ to battle fanfare gestures in Luigi Rossi’s ‘Fan Battaglia’ and consoling sighs in Barbara Strozzi’s ‘Eraclito Amoroso’. The
pieces are extremely well selected and sequenced, and the recorded sound (from Trinity Wall Street) is vibrant and warm. The only unaccompanied vocal piece is Caroline Shaw’s ‘Dolce Cantavi’ for three voices, an excellent example of how a contemporary composer can be inspired by the riches of the 17th-Century vocal idiom and also make the style her own. This makes me want to hear more of her music.
I didn’t find Caroline Shaw in the ARG index, but perhaps some of her music has been reviewed in a collection with other composers. She works with the ensemble Roomful of Teeth, with New Amsterdam Records, and other partners. As for the Tenet ensemble, it was recently announced that they will perform
in New York as part of the Serenissima festival at Carnegie Hall in February 2017.
A few small quibbles: the booklet needs some tidying up to make performer names consistent and confirm the number of pieces by Strozzi, and it’s important to be specific about the instrumental pieces (not just “toccata” by Frescobaldi, for instance).