Sogno Barocco (Naive, 2012) Anne Sofie von Otter, Cappella Mediterranea with Leonardo Garcia Alarcón (music director), Sandrine Piau.
The only two well-known pieces in Sogno Barocco are actually the two duets from Monteverdi’s Poppea, ‘Pur ti miro’ and the less popular but so much more luxuriant ‘Signor, hoggi rinasco’. There is also a Penelope’s lament from Il ritorno d’Ulisse, a relative known but certainly not among Baroque’s greatest hits (its dogged monotony may have something to do with it), but the remaining nine pieces are lesser known, carefully selected, sumptuous numbers by Cavalli, Rossi and Provenzale, many of which the lucky people of London, Paris and Ambronay heard live last year in the von Otter / Cappella Mediterranea recitals.
A well-programmed and imaginatively planned von Otter CD is nothing new. What makes this one so different from her other Baroque music recordings is not the amount of text (though there’s an unusual amount of it in these declarative and dialogical pieces) nor the duos (something you don’t usually find in Otter recordings), but its profound sadness. If you look at Canti di Maria, Music for a While, or Lamenti, something I beg you not to do, they are all at full blast, penetrating every conceivable angle of the human emotional spectrum. In Sogno, melancholy is in the DNA of every piece, including the parody piece by Provenzale, the two songs of excessive love, the instrumentals from Cavalli’s Elena, and even the three flirty sensuous duos with Sandrine Piau.
I have been spending most of my time with the two fascinating pieces related to the Swedish Queen Maria Eleonora and the death of her husband, Kind Gustavus II in 1632. (Their daughter, Queen Christina, will be better known to us, mainly thanks to Greta Garbo.*) Luigi Rossi composed ‘Lamento de la Regine di Suezia’ that goes over 10 minutes and pages and pages of text and really is a play consisting of many scenes, starting from the arrival of the news. There are many states that she passes through, many mood changes, some rational, some crackers, she becomes belligerent, then helpless, pious then blasphemous, and through all this von Otter’s voice is our only guide. And what a guide it is: by adopting this carousel of guises, it populates a solo lament into a dramatic playlet.
Then there’s Francesco Provenzale’s parody of Rossi’s Lament ‘Squarciato appena havea’, with each strophe starting in the proper, reverent way and turning into a Neapolitan dance with tarantella-like rhythms, often lascivious, often with a mad or thieving narrator. The somber sections, although seemingly sung in earnest, Otter strategically undermines by wacky embellishment at solemn words, precious or pompous inflections, and a wicked playfulness with words which will make you laugh. Just the way she delivers the word “Proruppe” in the line “Proruppe in un sospiro” speaks hilarious volumes. Or the fact that “Grida” is really sung as a clumsy grido. Or take “Grugna e ringrugna, con chi vuol ringrugnar” some verses later delivered in a grin of a spiteful child. The final “E morto il Saione” is a sort of an sing-a-long McCartneyesque ‘Hey Jude’ or ‘We Are the World’ ending. Priceless.
It’s blatantly unfair to put the musicians of CapMed in the short last paragraph—they are absolutely central here, and to list all their accomplishments would require another review. The bowed strings give that divine dark sound cloud, that indeterminate lingering period instruments drone that makes you pine for it when it disappears. The guitars sound very contemporary and frisk. The organ is discreet, attentive and nimble. Cornett gets some scene-stealing solos, and makes the melancholy of this music sweetly unbearable. Under the music direction of Leonardo Alarcón, CapMed is a perfect partner in Sogno.
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* I have this in mind, of course: