Cecilia Bartoli brings to light the music of the enigmatic Agostino Steffani - castrati, priest, missionary, diplomat, spy and Baroque composer. Plenty of fireworks and plenty of delicate beauty. A stunning eighty minutes. Probably not a recommended first purchase for someone unfamiliar with Cecilia Bartoli or Baroque opera, but for a Cecilia fan or anyone looking to extend their Baroque collection it's a must have.
21 of the 25 tracks are first recordings. The text explains this as Steffani falling through the cracks. Being Italian born but mostly based in Germany, and sometimes composing in a French style, he doesn't fit well into any particular tradition and was consequently forgotten. As this album shows, that's a fate he didn't deserve. Full marks to Cecilia Bartoli and Decca for remembering him.
Besides Cecilia Bartoli and the I Barrocchisti ensemble, there are appearances by counter tenor Philippe Jaroussky on four tracks, and Coro della Radiotelevisione Svizzera on four tracks. Track 5 (Amami, e vederai) is a luscious piece with Cecilia accompanied only by Rosario Conte on lute. That they all have an enthusiasm for the music is evident. How much more satisfying it must be to display one's creative ability by bringing music to the world that hasn't previously been heard by anyone alive today than by coming out with yet another interpretation of established repertoire no matter how good it may be. It shows.
The presentation is also sumptuous - a hardcover book with about 160 pages. It includes English, French and German text and graphics, but that still leaves enough pages to delve into Steffani's intriguing life in each language. Note that I'm reviewing the limited edition which has ASIN: B008LSSI4S in Amazon's product details. It might be the only version available as I write this but, if you are reading this sometime after its release, there might also be a less sumptuous (but cheaper) standard edition available.