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GRAMOPHONE (05/2017)
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Reviewer: Richard Lawrence

Ruby Hughes is a young soprano who won both first prize and the audience prize at the London Handel competition in 2009; for two years from 2011 she was a BBC New Generation artist. She has a warm, almost mellow voice, well suited to this enterprising selection of 17th-century songs. An overdose of melancholy is averted by the inclusion of instrumental pieces, including the movements of a Vivaldi cello sonata interspersed with the vocal items.

In fact it is with a piece for solo theorbo that the disc opens. Jonas Nordberg brings a touch of rubato to the Kapsberger Toccata that finds a counterpart in Mime Yamahiro Brinkmann’s expressive way with the Sarabanda of the Vivaldi. The second number is the air from Bonduca, where Purcell amusingly writes a vocal fanfare at ‘where the shrill trumpets never sound’. The pitch chosen for the recital, about a tone lower than today’s standard, seems to make Dido’s Lament especially poignant.

But the striking feature of the disc is the array of powerful pieces by Italian women composers. Barbara Strozzi’s L’Eraclito amoroso is a scena: the opening recitative is followed by four stanzas over a minor-key descending ground bass. Her Lagrime mie is similarly dramatic, incorporating recitative and arioso. Yet another lament, Lasciatemi qui solo by Francesca Caccini, daughter of Giulio, elicits subtly responsive playing from Nordberg’s theorbo. The sacred pieces by Claudia Sessa and Lucrezia Vizzana are not quite so memorable; but to all of them Ruby Hughes brings an exemplary understanding and stylishness. In the anonymous last piece, the words attributed to Anne Boleyn, cello and lute imitate a tolling bell: marvellous!  

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