Beautiful, Dazzle-free Early Baroque

Review by: Robert Levine


Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 10

Now in her late 50s, mezzo Anne Sofie von Otter has, perhaps, given up stressful roles (Octavian, Carmen) and is concentrating on more chamber-like material. Many of these selections focus on women in one sort of anguish or another—loss of a husband, unrequited love; however, a couple, from L’incoronazione di Poppea, in which von Otter sings Nero, are another story. Always a fine Baroque singer, on this CD she sounds secure and at ease. Perhaps the voice is not as lush as it once was, and she rarely ventures very high; always a very cool singer, she seems slightly more willing to use a darker low register. Slightly. She even occasionally lets her hair down, as in the playful, jeering “Squarciata appena havea” by the Neapolitan Francesco Provenzale, which parodies and mocks, through a variety of interpolated dance tunes, Luigi Rossi’s strange, dark Lament for the Queen of Sweden (it recounts the moment when the Queen was told of her husband’s death), which von Otter sings handsomely.

She is joined by the lovely Sandrine Piau in two duets from Poppea, the final one of which (the stunning “Pur ti miro”) is taken far too quickly by conductor Leonardo Alarcon, depriving it of its sensuality. Penelope’s opening lament from The Return of Ulysses is as simple and honest as it should be, but if you dare to compare it with, say, Janet Baker’s, it sounds like a laundry list.

These are subtle works for the most part, by composers whose use of chromaticism sometimes startles and always moves the listener; the feelings are in the music. I can’t help the sensation that von Otter remains, as ever, at somewhat of a distance from the emotional core of many of these pieces. The alternate argument would be that the music needs no “interpretation”, just accuracy to text, dynamics, and the general “feel” of each piece. “Si dolce è’l tormento”, the Monteverdi madrigal that opens the CD, is a case in point. Everything is done correctly—including the instrumental accompaniment (this is true throughout: the Cappella Mediterranea is a fine, lean group)—but it is so understated that it practically does not register past its beauty. Others may disagree; I left my three listen-throughs feeling as if I’d heard perfect, cool presentations of great music, by a singer with more intellect than passion. Over to you.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: Sogno Barocco

Works by Claudio Monteverdi, Francesco Cavalli, Francesco Provenzale, Luigi Rossi, others

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