Friday 11 July 2014

Lamento - Romina Basso and Latinitas Nostra

Lamento, music by Rossi, Carissimi, Strozzi, Monteverdi, Provenzale; Romina Basso, Latinitas Nostra; Naive
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 04 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Vividly thrilling exploration of the 17th century Italian lamento

Lamento is a new disc from mezzo soprano Romina Basso and Latinitas Nostra on Naive label which puts together five substantial 17th century laments, a genre which was extremely popular in the 17th century. Each is a sequence of arias and recitatives, telling a story like a miniature opera and focussing on a single tragic event. We have Lamento della regina di svezia (Lament of the Queen of Sweden) by Luigi Rossi, Lamento in morte di Maria Stuarda  by Giacomo Carissimi, Barbara Strozzi's Lagrime mie (My tears), Monteverdi's Lamento d'Arianna and Squarciato appena avea, attributed to Francesco Provenzale.

Rossi's Lamento della regina di svezia refers to the death of King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden at the Battle of Lutzen in 1632. Rossi is best known for his 1632 opera Orfeo, the first Italian opera written for the court of France and the lamento was written for Cardinal Mazarin. In it Queen Christine, the wife of King Gustavus Adolphus, describes the pain that grips her as she becomes aware of her husband's violent death, exclaiming 'let someone slay me'. It is quite a long piece, around 13 minutes, which the performers preface with Johannes Heironymus Kapsperger's Toccata seconda arpeggiata as atmospheric introduction. Once the lamento starts one's first impression is of the vividness of Basso's projection of the words, and there are torrents of them. Clearly having a native speaker is an advantage here, and Basso is a vividly intense performer who makes the music serve the words. She has a lovely focussed alto voice and clearly the technique required to bring off this music, but it is the way she heightens the drama and really makes the emotions of the verbal narrative tell which simply pins you to your seat.

Giacomo Carissimi's Lamento in morte di maria stuarda is based on  more well known episode, the death of Mary, Queen of Scots. Carissimi follows the model of Monteverdi (whose influential Lamento d'Arianna is on the disc) and uses an alternation of moods, gentle, sorrowful and defiant, there is also a narrator at the end telling us of her ascension into heaven. Basso and Latinitas Nostra bring tense drama into both the vocal and instrumental parts, but true to Carissimi's music there are intense, plangent lyrical moments too. There are times when you feel the performers are pushing the music as far as it will go, but the performances are so thrillingly vivid that it hardly matters.

Barbara Strozzi, the adopted daughter of the Venetian poet Giulio Strozzi, was one of Cavalli's pupils in Venice. She is probably the first professional woman composer in Europe. Her Lagrime mie (My tears) is full of rhetorical figures and madrigalism evoking grief and torment. Some of her writing is very adventurous in its chromaticism and the vocal writing highly virtuoso. Basso's performance is terrific, full of intense expressiveness, highly virtuosic moments and some wonderfully plangent lyricism. But after three laments, a voice in the back of my head starts to worry that this expressiveness is perhaps a little too stylised, a little too idiomatic.

Monteverdi's Lamento d'Arianna is the sole surviving section of his Arianna opera. Here the group prefix it with Girolamo Frescobaldi's Capriccio ix di durezze, which forms an atmospheric instrumental preface. Basso's vivid attention to the words and her intense attention to the drama convince and I was less worried here about the stylisation.

The final work on the disc is attributed to Francesco Provenzale (an important 17th century Neapolitan composer). It is a parody of Rossi's lamento following the work's musical outline and plot, but each time the Queen of Sweden seems about to speak we are presented with a folk song or nursery rhyme in a variety of different and unlikely dialects. These are sung by additional cast, Haris Andrianos, Theodora Baka, Paul Zachariades, and Nikos Spanatis, and they are clearly having great fun. The result is an entrancing send up of the genre, finely and vividly performed.

Throughout the disc, Romina Basso is finely supported by Latinatas Nostra, a baroque music ensemble created by the Greek harpsichordist Markellos Chryssicos. The players on the disc are Theodors Kitsos (theorbo and baroque guitar), Andreas Linos (bass gamba) and Markellos Chryssicos (harpsichord, organ and artistic director), with Simos Papanas and George Garavounis in the final item.

The CD booklet includes an informative article on the music and the lamento genre, with full texts and translations.

The vivid performances from Romina Basso and Latinitas Nostra ensure that this disc is anything but a dry and learned discourse. Basso's combination of musicality with a thrilling projection of the text brings out the intense emotionalism of these works and makes for stunning listening.

Johannes Hieronymus Kapsperger (c1580 - 1651) - Toccata seconda arpeggiata
Luig Rossi (1598 - 1653) - Lamento della regina di svezia
Giacomo Crissim (1605 - 1674) - Lamento in morte di maria stuarda
Barbara Strozzi (1619 - 1677) - Lagrime mie
Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583 - 1643) - Capriccio ix di durezze
Claudio Monteverdi (1567 - 1643) - Lamento d'arianna
Francesco Provenzale (1624-1704) - Squarciato appena avea
Romina Basso (mezzo-soprano)
Latinitas Nostra (Theodoros Kitsos, Andreas Lino, Markellos Chryssicos)
Recorded February 2010 at the Cultural Cetnre Philadelphia, Athens, Greece.

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