Mstation Classical Reviews

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Fri, 29 Apr 2005

Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Handel

Sara Mingardo with Concerto Italiano directed by Rinaldo 
Alessandrini With Monica Bacelli (mezzosoprano)

Tarquinio Merula (c.1595-1665)	Hor ch'e tempo di morire
Giovanni Salvatore (1600-c.1688)	Allor che Tirsi udia
Giacomo Carissimi (1605-1674)	Deh, memoria, e che piu chiedi
Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)	Vorrei baciarti
Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676)	Erme e solighe cime
Claudio Monteverdi			Se i languidi miei sguardi
Giovanni Legrenzi (1626-1690)	Costei ch'in mezzo al volto 
                                scritt'ha il mio cor
Georg Frideric Handel (1685-1759)	Lungi da me pensier tiranno
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)		Pianti, sospiri e dimandar mercede

Recorded in the Sala Accademica del PIMS, Rome, Italy in January 2004
NAIVE OPUS111 OP 30395 [71.37]

A pretty standard recital programme of Italian 17th and 18th century music accompanied by a highly polished small band of period instruments. So what's unusual about it? Legrenzi, Cavalli, Monteverdi, and the ubiquitous bit of Vivaldi. Nothing strange there. The striking thing about this recital is that it is sung by a woman. Early music may be full of famous pure-voiced women, but this programme is the repertoire of the countertenor, a voice that has become so ubiquitous as to be almost the defining characteristic of the "period instrument" school of performance. Sara Mingardo, however, is one of the very few true contraltos around these days and is reclaiming this repertoire from the Andreas Scholls, Robin Blazes and Rene Jacobses of the early music world.

So does it work? Well, given that the texts being sung are all in Italian and of that manner of fairly execrable baroque love poetry of the "I die, I die, Amantis and Thyrsis in the meadows, Oh, love I am wounded by your dart" kind, an assessment can be made purely on the instrumental sound of Mingardo's voice. In which case the result is superlative. The reason Andreas Scholl became so popular was that he is a countertenor who avoids the grating or the hooty that afflicts that voice-type so readily. None of that in Mingardo who has real warmth and colour across her whole vocal range and a low register that is almost tenor-esque, with no apparent loss of control or power. Quite incredible really, and very much putting one in mind of the vocal quality of Kathleen Ferrier, but without the lack of control that singers explain away as being bel canto.

Interesting repertoire throughout, with a particularly arresting opening track in which Merula weaves a good six minutes of gorgeous melody over a bass line that constantly repeats just two rising notes. This is positively hypnotic minimalism, and Mingardo wrings every drop of passion out of it. The one duet track, Vorrei baciarti by Monteverdi, with the mezzo Monica Bacelli provides a welcome variation in the texture, as does the superb violin playing of Concerto Italiano, judiciously used in a couple of tracks. One wonders slightly about the decision to add the cantatas by Handel and Vivaldi as the last 20 minutes. These are both fine works and show off Mingardo's ability with later Baroque repertoire, but the contrast of styles between the 17th and 18th centuries is not inconsiderable. From a programming point of view, there was a lot to be said for making the whole disc a collection of 17th century music. Certainly, anybody hearing this and then being given the opportunity to buy a follow-up disc of 18th century cantatas would be foolish to pass on the opportunity. Further, the 18th century repertoire is so vast and interesting that the inclusion of only two works does not scratch the surface. One would love to hear Mingardo in a disc of more Vivaldi, but paired with his contemporaries rather than his precursors. Vivaldi and Scarlatti make a disc on their own. Handel demands a disc of his own and this would be wonderful given performances like that here. The chosen format gives a bit the feel of a sampler disc, which was probably not the intended impression.

Nonetheless, if you have not yet heard Sara Mingardo in early Italian repertoire now is your chance, and there is a strong recommendation to be made. Her voice reminds us of just how much we have begun to miss from the demise of the contralto voice.

(c) 2005 Peter Wells

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