Most helpful positive review
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 5 July 2013
I must admit I was dubious about this programme to begin with. Intrigued by the selection of music, I was then put off by the visual nonsense of the cover and booklet, depicting the singer as a mascara-enhanced forest nymph tangled up in sinuously theatrical tree branches, with a booklet essay in somewhat similar vein. Even a first hearing of the sounds therein didn't entirely dispel my scepticism. But then the enchantment began to work and, gradually, I was won over.
"A wide-ranging baroque programme set in the dream-world of myth and fairy-tale" runs the cover blurb - and, this being the baroque, it goes almost without saying that this dream world also brings with it a generous sampling of the trials, delights, mysteries and sorrows of love. In fact this is a varied and well-arranged programme of baroque theatre music by Handel, Purcell, Cavalli, Monteverdi and Vivaldi. As I was saying, it took me a while to warm to the style of Anna Prohaska and of Jonathan Cohen's Arcangelo ensemble. But in fact the singer has a lovely, light, agile voice, and expresses with striking conviction the emotions and the enchantment in these pieces. Her high notes and embellishments are a delight, and she sounds splendid in the lower range also. She doesn't always articulate her words clearly, but that's not the end of the world because all the texts and translations are supplied. The Handel arias, such as "Tornami a vagheggiar" from "Alcina" (track 9), are splendidly done, and so are the extracts from that masterpiece of baroque enchantment, Purcell's "The Fairy Queen". I don't believe I've ever heard the lines "He's gone, he's gone, his loss deplore, and I shall never see him more" - from the Plaint: O let me weep (11) - delivered with more deeply affecting sorrow than here.
And then there are the Cavalli pieces, starting with the recitative and aria from "La Calisto" (13); the latter, beginning at the line "T'aspetto a tu non vieni", shows the great Italian melodist at his best, its instrumental accompaniment the epitome of grace and euphony. Cavalli's following piece, from "Gli amori d'Apollo e di Dafne", is just as lovely, with delightfully scored ritornelli and Ciaccona and with delicate echo effects from Prohaska at the end. Finally, Monteverdi's "Lamento della Ninfa", so full of pathos and soulful misery, is magical; and here, the excellence of the three blokes supporting the soprano adds a final exquisite touch - or at least, would do so but for the fact that what we presumed to be the closing work is actually followed by an additional unlisted item, namely a brief unaccompanied piece by Thomas Morley, "Sweet nymph, come to thy lover", in which Prohaska duets with herself. (Thanks to reviewer John T. Hughes in "International Record Review" for this identification.)
I haven't said much about the Arcangelo early music ensemble so far, but in fact these players not only provide excellent support in the vocal works but are as stylish as can be in Purcell's instrumental pieces - which, together with the more lively works from Handel and Vivaldi, bring ample variety of mood and tempo to the mixture. The ensemble play with flair, delicacy and excellent rapport with the singer's approach to the music; and altogether, under Jonathan Cohen's sensitive direction, they sound extremely well throughout the programme.
There is a strong element of showmanship in this recital, and some devotees of historically informed performance may feel it's a bit over the top. But I suspect that these performances would have delighted opera-goers in baroque times. So, while I do have a couple of reservations about this themed anthology, I find its positive assets irresistible; altogether it makes a splendid introduction to the subtler charms and delights of the baroque theatre.