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Exquisite melodies from a Baroque master,
This review is from: Duetti da Camera (Audio CD)
The chamber duets of Agostino Steffani are among the truly exquisite masterpieces of the Baroque era. They epitomise many of the qualities that make Baroque music so appealing to us today: melodic beauty, delicate counterpoint, delicious harmony, emotional drama and sheer expressive power. Modestly scored for two voices and continuo, they were regarded as models of vocal music in their time, by the young Handel among many others.
These performances by soprano Rossana Bertini and countertenor Claudio Cavina are magnificent. Both singers have glorious voices, blending wonderfully, making the most of Steffani's beautiful harmonies, and singing with feeling and insight in perfect Baroque style. In doing so they reach to the very heart of Steffani's subtle and mesmerising music, mostly on texts expressing the interwoven pleasure and pain of unrequited love. If you can, try listening to the opening bars of "Crudo amor" or "Placidissime catene" and you may well find you are hooked before you know it.
These two wonderful singers are accompanied by the four musicians of Arcadia directed by Attilio Cremonesi, all of whom do a superb job. The disc was originally issued by Glossa in 1995, and on that occasion was accompanied by very full booklet notes, including descriptions of each one of the duets, together with the Italian texts and translations in English, French, German and Spanish. It was then reissued in 2002, without the Italian texts which were however made available on the internet. The present reissue fortunately restores the duet texts, albeit without translations; and there are the same useful notes on Steffani's life and work, but without the detailed descriptions of the duets. So the original issue, identifiable by a Carracci painting covering the entire box front (as opposed to the smaller one within a dark brown border of the first reissue) would ideally be the one to have, but even a second-hand copy is very hard to find nowadays.
Be that as it may, the present CD is a very welcome reappearance of a truly classic recording. In fact it is easily the best disc available of Steffani's duets, firstly because it is so beautifully performed and recorded, and also because the selection of works here forms an especially well-chosen programme. There is a CD with a different selection of Duetti da Camera on the DG Archiv label and another on Pan Classics, but the Glossa disc simply outclasses these in both beauty and passion. The works themselves will undoubtedly delight music-lovers who have come to know this exceptionally gifted composer through his "Stabat Mater", or from his lovely operas such as "Orlando generoso" or "Niobe, Regina di Tebe". On the other hand, if you have not yet had the pleasure of hearing the music of this fascinating "polymath of the Baroque" - as Colin Timms calls Steffani in the title of his excellent monograph on the composer - then this disc of chamber duets would make an ideal starting point.