The image of Mary Magdalene has inspired music from plainchant to pop. This disc attests to her almost cult status in Baroque Italy where the repentant prostitute – the epitome of human frailty and goodness – appealed to the spirit of Catholic piety. The collection also provides a rare but welcome insight into the music of several distinguished composers then working in Rome: Domenico Mazzocchi, Luigi Rossi and Benedetto Ferrari – all of whom have been unjustly neglected on record. Their solo voice motets – intricate, perfumed laments – are exquisitely realised by the Argentinian-born soprano Maria Cristina Kiehr. Her voice is androgynous yet voluptuous, here and there echoing mannerisms of her former teacher René Jacobs. Above all, Kiehr imbues this music with a sense of spiritual rapture, combining naivety with sensuality to suggest the character of the Magdalene.
Concerto Soave provides some inspired continuo realisations, weaving a web of instrumental threads around the voice. The ensemble also offers a selection of solo and ensemble items for harp, lute and harpsichord. It is, of course, hard to sustain musical variety in an entire disc of Italian Baroque laments, but even harder to imagine how this music could be realised more beautifully. Kate Bolton