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GRAMOPHONE (02/2013)
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Reviewer: Richard Lawrence

Von Otter and friends revel in early Italian opera composers

More than half of this 12-track disc is taken up by four laments, three of which last around 10 minutes. Luigi Rossi was the composer of Orfeo (1647), Cardinal Mazarin’s attempt to introduce Italian opera to Paris. The ‘Lament of the Queen of Sweden’ is an earlier work, composed on the death in battle of King Gustavus Adolphus in 1632. A narrator introduces the scene, after which the queen pours out her grief: it’s all in secco recitative, apart from a short passage of Monteverdian stile concitato. Anne Sofie von Otter paces it beautifully, her feeling for the words artfully concealing the dullness of the piece.

The second lament is Squarciato appena havea, an extraordinary parody of the Rossi by Francesco Provenzale. It too begins with the narrator announcing the arrival of a messenger but the story is interrupted by outbursts of doggerel, irrelevant where not obscene. It all seems in thoroughly bad taste, but perhaps I’m missing something. Von Otter has a whale of a time and the instrumentalists join in with a chorus at the end. The exuberance is reminiscent of Christina Pluhar’s L’Arpeggiata.

The excerpts from L’incoronazione di Poppea appear out of sequence. Particularly ravishing is ‘Pur ti miro’, von Otter’s rich but not heavy tone erotically entwined with the equally passionate soprano of Sandrine Piau. Of the two remaining laments, Penelope’s in II ritorno d’Ulisse is exceptionally moving: just listen to the intensity with which von Otter imbues ‘Tu soi del tuo tornar’. A strange disc, oddly memorable.

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