Thursday 25 March 2021

From Monteverdi & Cavalli to Abba: 'Rebirth' from Sonya Yoncheva, Leonardo García Alarcón and Cappella Mediterranea on Sony Classical

Rebirth -  Sonya Yoncheva, Cappella Mediterranea, Leonardo García Alarcón; Sony Classical

- Monteverdi, Cavalli, Strozzi, Stradella, Alarcón, Marin, de Torrejon y Velazco, Diaz, Gibbons, Dowland, Ferrabosco, Anderson & Ulvaeus; Sonya Yoncheva, Cappella Mediterranea, Leonardo García Alarcón; Sony Classical

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 24 March 2021 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
The Bulgarian soprano collaborates with a period instrument ensemble for an intriguing melange of 17th century music spiced with some more recent items

Ten years ago, Bulgarian soprano Sonia Yoncheva sang the role of Poppea in a production of Monteverdi's L'incoronatione which Leonardo García Alarcón conducted at the Geneva Conservatoire where he teaches Baroque music. Yoncheva had an idea for a further project but it took last year's cancellation of existing projects to bring her and Alarcón together. The result is Rebirth a programme of Baroque arias and instrumental music which Sonia Yoncheva has recorded Leonardo García Alarcón and Cappella Mediterranea on the Sony Classical label.

The programme is highly eclectic, mixing sacred and profane, vocal and instrumental. The selection of composers ranges widely with a madrigal by Monteverdi and Arnalta's aria from L'incoronatione di Poppea, a sinfonia from Cavalli's opera L'egisto and an aria from Xerse, an aria from Stradella's oratorio San Giovanne Battista, Barbara Strozzi's L'Eraclito amoroso, music from Alarcón's completion of Antonio Draghi's El Prometeo, 17th century Spanish dance music from Jose Marin and Tomas de Torrejon y Velazco along with music by the contemporary Argentine composer Simon Diaz, Orlando Gibbons' The Silver Swan, John Dowland's Come again, sweet love and a pavan by Alfonso Ferrabosco retrofitted with text by Ben Johnson, a Bulgarian folk-song and Like an Angel passing through the room by Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus (the writing partnership behind Abba).

The programme was created by dialogue, to each of the singer's suggestions Alarcón would respond with an idea of his own. The result is intended by Yoncheva "to highlight the timeless quality of this music, the sense of unlimited freedom that it offers us human beings in such an instantaneous way". And the theme has clear links to the events of last year, not just as the recording was able to be created because suddenly two busy artists had time, but also Yoncheva sees "it is an appeal for a rebirth, for the renewal of the kind that our world so desperately needs today. It is a journey back to the very deep-est recesses of the human psyche and to its origins in music and the arts."

Yoncheva has a rich sensuous voice which has obviously developed somewhat since she first sang Poppea but she clearly has the sensitivity and flexibility to sing this repertoire, and the fact that she is an alumna of William Christie and Les Arts Florissants' Le Jardin des Voix obviously shows she has a strong stylistic grounding in the music of the era. She also a real feel for the language, so that the quasi-recitative sections of the 17th century pieces are all imbued with emotion and not simply parrotted, and her English is expressively creditable.

However, she does rather often use a slightly breathy intimate tone which is in danger of verging on crooning (this is an approach that the soprano Simone Kermes often takes in Baroque music). It brings the sound-world closer to modern popular song rather than HIP Baroque music, something highlighted by the inclusion at the end of the Abba song, which is completely delicious I have to admit.

In the booklet, Alarcón talks of having "embraced this music by amplifying Sonya's sensuous voice and enveloping it like an aura in the intimacy of the legend-ary recording studio in the Concert Hall that is La Chaux-de-Fonds" and there is something to be said for the way Alarcón and his ensemble do indeed embrace the project and surround Yoncheva's luxurious and luxuriant tone with a richly imagined palate of timbres and textures. The ensemble includes an array of cornet, flute, bass flute, viola, viola da gamba, lyre, cello, double bass, archlute, guitar, theorbo, bandurrio, harpsichord and organ, performed by 15 players.

The CD booklet includes a long article by Petya Ivanova, with extensive quotation from Yoncheva and Alarcón, which does try to both provide some background to the music and to explain the rationale behind the programme and the linkages between the pieces. The images used in the booklet are, however, somewhat over the top and make it difficult to take the recording seriously.

In a sense, this recording is not really aimed at me, at people who have already discovered the riches of this repertoire and how it can speak to us nowadays just as vividly as it did to the 17th century listeners. Yoncheva talks about how she wants to "to highlight the timeless quality of this music, the sense of unlimited freedom that it offers us human beings in such an instantaneous way". If that sentiment doesn't appeal to you, then you probably won't like this album. But it is a disc that wears its heart in the right place, and you cannot but admire Yoncheva for the way she has not merely dipped her toe in the water and given us a 'greatest hits' assembly of Baroque plums, but created an intriguing melange with one of the most distinguish period instrument ensembles around in performances which have great sensitivity and immediacy.

Alessandro Stradella (1639 - 1682) - Queste lagrime e sospiri (from San Giovanni Battista)
Claudio Monteverdi (1567 - 1643) - O rosetta, che rosetta, SV 237
Pietro Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676) - E te pur vero ... Luci mie, voi che miraste (from Xerse)
Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) - The Silver Swan
Claudio Monteverdi - Voglio di vita uscir SV337
Claudio Monteverdi - S'apre la tomba
José Marín (1618/19 - 1699) - Ojos, pues me desdeñáis
Leonardo García Alarcón (born 1976) - Y a tus plantas Nisea (From El Prometeo)
Simón Díaz (1928 - 2014) - Pasaje del olvido
Traditional - Zableyalo mi agance
Francesco Cavalli - Sinfonia della notte (from L'Egisto)
Claudio Monteverdi - Oblivion soave (from L'incoronazione di Poppea)
Barbara Strozzi (1619 - 1677) - L'Eraclito amoroso (from Cantate, ariette e duetti, Op. 2)
Santiago de Murcia (1673-1739) & Diego Fernández De Huete (1635 - 1713) - Tarantela española
Alfonso Ferrabosco II (c1575 - 1628)) - Hear me, O God
John Dowland (1563 - 1626) - Come Again, Sweet Love
Tomas de Torrejón y Velasco (1644 - 1728) - No hay que decirle el primor
Benny Andersson  (born 1946) & Bjorn Ulvaeus (born 1945) - Like an Angel Passing Through My Room
Sonya Yoncheva (soprano)
Cappella Mediterranea
Leonardo García Alarcón (conductor, harpsichord, organ)
Recorded 24-28 June, 2020, Salle de musique, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland

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