Canta la Serenissima: Music from 17th-Cen. Venice — Argo – Alba

Canta la Serenissima: Music from 17th century Venice – Argo – Alba multichannel SACD ABCD 360, 65:58 [Distr. by Albany] [4/11/14] ***1/2:

As stated in the header, this is 17th Century Venetian music (the Most Serene Republic of Venice, La Serenissima) from composers who were all associated with Saint Mark’s Cathedral. The position of maestro di Capella was the pinnacle of any European career, and the forces available to that person, musically speaking, were considerable, aside from the number of assistants it took to help coordinate such efforts. During Monteverdi’s reign, easily the most revered and famous of all the masters of music at St. Mark’s, the style underwent quite a change, with allotment of dissonance on the up rise, extremely subjective texts, and instrumental music that assumed a position of its own. In other words, hyper expressivity was the order of the day, so it is no surprise that the pieces here are given to a lot of emotion and vibrancy of feeling that was perhaps known only to those in Venice, and even rejected at Rome, which was a bastion of conservatism that had only recently admitted even Palestrina into its canonical forces.

Argo is an ensemble that specializes in Baroque small group vocal music, so this recital fits them to a tee. Finnish soprano Kajsa Dahlbäck is the star of most of this show, and she delivers the goods with aplomb, though sometimes I find myself wishing that there was a little more juice in some of the performances, and there is a lot of rather slow playing. Nevertheless, the players of Argo acquit themselves well, and even though this isn’t the most striking of readings of these types of works that I have heard, they make for pleasant listening, sometimes rousing, and always very well done. The sound is close and resonant, mostly warm and finely expanded among the speakers.

Tracklist:

Monteverdi, Claudio (1567-1643): Confitebor primo; Laudate Dominum
Castello, Dario (c. 1590-c. 1658): Undecima sonata a due violini e fagotto; Sonata prima a soprano solo
Grandi, Alessandro (1586-1630): Jesu mi dulcissime; O quam speciosa
Marini, Biagio (1594-1663): La Foscarina; Sonata a violino o cornetto e basso
Picchi, Giovanni (1572-1643): Pass’e mezzo
Merula, Tarquinio (1594-1665): Gaudeamus omnes
Monferrato, Natale (1603-1685): Alma redemptoris mater
Merulo, Claudio (1533-1604): La Cortese
Riccio, Giovanni Battista (fl 1609-1621): Ave regina caelorum

—Steven Ritter

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