There is a touching passage in Anne Sofie von Otter’s notes on Sogno Barocco (Baroque Dream) where she compares the appeal of singing Handel and Vivaldi with the subtler charms of early Baroque. With age, her passion for the music she describes as ‘long recitatives with short arias’ has intensified, and the results in this programme of laments and duets by Monteverdi, Cavalli and Rossi – together with Francesco Provenzale’s caustic parody of Rossi’s ‘Lamento de la Regina di Suezia’ – are magnificent. The title of the disc is apt: the viols and lutes of Leonardo García Alarcón’s Ensemble Cappella Mediterranea luxuriate in the ears.
It is a bold gambit to put two lamenting Queens of Sweden on one disc. Where Rossi presents a vision of scandalous opulence – referring to Maria Eleonora’s 100 blonde ladies-in-waiting – Provenzale punctuates his ‘Squarciato appena havea’ with filthy Neapolitan street songs. Von Otter delivers both versions with scrupulous attention to the words and a sultry tone. Every rhetorical device is skilfully explored, every phrase glows, whether blithely (La Calisto), or with suppressed violence (Poppea). The instrumental movements from Cavalli’s Elena are ravishing. For many listeners, however, Von Otter’s duets with Sandrine Piau will be the highlight. Stylistically, temperamentally and in terms of timbre, the two voices are a sensational match. Rarely have ‘Pur ti miro’ or ‘Dolcissimi baci’ sounded so erotic.