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GRAMOPHONE (07/2016)
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Reviewer: Alexandra Coghlan


Carlo Gesualdo might get all the attention when it comes to colourful composer biographies but Alessandro Stradella (1639-82) gives the murderer-composer more than a run for his money. A fraudster, playboy and serial seducer (wimples no object), Stradella was the subject of at least one failed murder plot and was eventually stabbed to death by an unknown killer. If his music can’t quite live up to the thrills of his life, it’s still got plenty to recommend it, as this latest recording from Ensemble Mare Nostrum demonstrates.


Launched in 2014, the ensemble’s Stradella Project aims to bring the composer’s works to a new audience at the rate of one new recording project per year. We’ve already had the lively serenata La forza delle stelle (12/14) and the premiere recording of the oratorio San Giovanni Crisostomo (11/15), and now Andrea De Carlo and his musicians present Santa Editta – an oratorio inspired by the little-known English Saint Edith of Wilton.


If the subject matter seems obscure, it provides the composer with the perfect framework for an oratorio that dramatises the struggle between worldly pleasures and power (rendered in sprightly dances and some beautiful ensembles) and the rewards of the spiritual life. Editta herself (Veronica Cangemi) is beset on all sides by allegorical figures – Nobilità (Francesca Aspromonte), Humiltà (Claudia Di Carlo), Grandezza (Gabriella Martellacci), Bellezza (Fernando Guimarães) and Senso (Sergio Foresti) – who each take it in turns to plead their case.


The usually excellent Cangemi isn’t on finest vocal form here, tending to the shrill, with some definite tightness at the top of the voice, but dramatically it’s a vivid performance – a foil for the diverse cast of musical characters around her. The standout is Aspromonte. This young soprano (so dynamic as Music/Messenger in Orfeo at the 2015 BBC Proms) is all sparkling ease and delight, blending beautifully with Cangemi in their ‘Bella luce’ duet. Foresti’s Senso is agile, Guimarães brightly forward and resonant. The score, if lacking any cut-outand-keep moments, has an easy flow to it – an attractive hour of music that should win some new fans for the Stradella Project.


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