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GRAMOPHONE (07/2016)
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Reviewer: Alexandra Coghlan


Founded in 1580 by the Duke of Ferrara, the Concerto delle Donne was an institution that revolutionised women’s role in music-making. For the first time an all-female ensemble had a professional position in secular society and an outlet for their virtuoso talents. On ‘The Secret Lover’, American early music ensemble Tenet pay homage to their musical ancestresses in a programme of music by Strozzi, Kapsberger, Caccini and Rossi.


Tenet’s artistic director, soprano Jolle Greenleaf, is joined here by soprano Molly Quinn, mezzo Virginia Warnken and a variety of instrumentalists for a programme that has all the intimacy and seductive charm of the drawing room. These aren’t big voices: the interest is all in the nuance of tone and the subtlety of the vocal rhetoric of the often impassioned texts. Francesca Caccini’s ‘Dispiegate gauncie amate’ prompts a delicious variety of voicedistorting effects, and Strozzi’s ‘L’amante segreto’ – the most extended work on the album – is an episodic drama-in-miniature that’s beautifully varied and handled. But too often you want just a bit more tone colour, a bit more Italianate abandon from these very correct early music performers.


The voices are at their best in three-part writing, whether in the playful exchanges of Luigi Rossi’s pulsing ‘Fan battaglia’, Strozzi’s more lyrical ‘Le tre Grazie a Venere’ or the overt sensuality of the anonymous ‘Passacalli della vita’, in which the three voices glide among one another, occasionally meeting for a deliciously prolonged and suggestive suspension.


The instrumental numbers are wonderful thoughout, from the simplicity of Kapsberger’s self-titled little song or his brief ‘Capona’ to the outlandish chromaticisms of Michelangelo Rossi’s Toccata for harpsichord, performed with dexterity by Jeffrey Grossman. Taken as a whole, ‘The Secret Lover’ is a nicely judged recital programme, offering more than enough textural variety to compensate for the slightly contained performances.


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