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GRAMOPHONE (08/2017)
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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp

One of the great things about early music is that there are still discoveries out there to be made. And even if not as earth-shattering as a lost Monteverdi opera or 100 or so Bach cantatas, they can prove fascinating nevertheless. Such is the case with the so-called ‘Carlo G Manuscript’, a collection of early Italian Baroque sacred vocal solos and duets with organ which surfaced in a Venetian flea market about 15 years ago and subsequently disappeared via Sotheby’s into a private collection, though thankfully not before it had been studied, scanned and made available on the internet. What makes it special is not only that all but one of the dozens of pieces it contains (including some by Caccini) were previously unknown, but that both the vocal ornamentations and the continuo-like organ accompaniments are fully written out, revealing in the process much about the performance styles of the day. Then there is the mystery of the composer of the great majority of these pieces, which in the manuscript are ascribed simply to ‘Carlo G’; only on the title-page is his full name given, except (d’oh!) that a stain has obscured all the letters after G. (From the music, by the way, it is pretty clear that this is not Gesualdo).

This music is unassuming at heart, but with its simple but mellifluously embellished harmonies it would certainly have made a satisfying addition to whatever church services it was intended for. The performances on this selection give it every chance too. Soprano Perrine Devillers and countertenor Doron Schleifer cope with the intricate vocal roulades with skill and style, as does violinist Plamena Nikitassova when she takes over a vocal line (another practice suggested in the manuscript).

No less a star, though, is the organ, the stunning restored 17th-century instrument by Ategnati in the Chiesa dei Santi Eusebio e Vittore in Peglio, Italy, which is soft, fruity and wonderfully clear, whether played by Profeti della Quinta’s director Elam Rotem in the vocal works or by JörgAndreas Bötticher in the solos (not from the manuscript) that have been added to show it off further. In places intimate, in others ravishing, these pieces are a delightful find, and are beautifully performed, recorded and presented.

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