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GRAMOPHONE (11/2021)
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Harmonia Mundi

Code barres / Barcode : 3149020940068


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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp

Johann Hieronymus (or Giovanni Girolamo) Kapsberger is best known, together with Alessandro Piccinini, for providing grateful modern performers and programme planners with almost all the usable repertoire of early 17th-century Italian theorbo solos. His secular vocal music, though reasonably plentiful, has rarely been considered, and when it has, has tended to draw down disdain. A frisky disc of villanelle last year from Les Kapsber’girls (Muso) helped address that, and now the opulently named L’Escadron Volant de la Reine give him another chance, proving him well worth an album’s worth of exposure.

Born in Venice to a German father around 1580, Kapsberger moved in his twenties to Rome, where he made a reputation for himself as a theorbo player and got in with the wealthy Barberini family, for whose scion Pope Urban VIII he worked from 1624. The vocal works we get here come from publications issued between 1609 and 1627, and take in fivepart madrigals, stagey little villanelle for one to three solo voices, and more declamatory (though at the same time floridly ornamented) arie passeggiate for single voice – all with continuo accompaniment.

Though nothing here has the emotional range and musical breadth of a Monteverdi – many of the pieces are less than two minutes long – they generally respond to text quickly and with a shot of expressive or pictorial imagination direct enough to make them effective as vignettes. Kapsberger really grabs at the emotional contracts in La mia leggiadra Filli, and sets laughing and weeping tumbling over each other in Io rido amanti. Fabricator d’inganni amusingly sets an ‘old adage’ refrain as a chanted proclamation, the lament Tu, che pallido essangue sustains its grief well as it rises to the defiant declaration ‘Un amante son io’ (‘A lover am I!’), and Figlio dormi is a genuinely touching lullaby. In short, there’s usually something to listen for.

The performances are lively and sympathetic. The singers of this young group show good style and sensitive expression; a continuo section of gamba, theorbo, harp, harpsichord and organ allows plenty of variation of colour and weight; a violin makes occasional telling contributions; and Thibaut Roussel, as Kapsberger on theorbo, does not muff his moment in a tender and graceful Passacaglia. Not a must-buy, perhaps, but Baroque fans should find it of interest.

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