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Battle Cry – She Speaks

Helen Charlston (mezzo-soprano), Toby Carr (theorbo) (Delphian)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Battle Cry – She Speaks
Owain Park: Battle Cry; plus works by Eccles, Kapsberger, Purcell, Strozzi, Monteverdi and Visée
Helen Charlston (mezzo-soprano), Toby Carr (theorbo)
Delphian DCD34283   57:20 mins

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This recording spotlights heroines and tragediennes like Boudica, Ariadne and Dido as well as the poet Sappho and composer Barbara Strozzi. The programme includes some famous Baroque laments – Arianna’s, set by Monteverdi, and Dido’s, set by Purcell – along with less-familiar ones like Barbara Strozzi’s ‘L’Eraclito amoroso’ whose textual antitheses find expression in Strozzi’s vacillating vocal line. Inspired, in part, by these lovelorn outpourings is the centrepiece of the disc: a newly commissioned work by Owain Park with texts by Georgia Way. Battle Cry is a haunting contemporary take on Baroque themes, through which Park weaves fragments of other pieces featured on the disc (including the four-note ground bass that came to signify lamentation in the 17th century) – so creating a strongly cohesive programme.

Mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston and theorbist Toby Carr focus on the close relationship between voice and theorbo in their recital, scaling down several works to create the intimacy of a duet. Charlston’s mezzo is dark and full-bodied as a good claret, and she offers highly expressive readings of the texts, plumbing their depths with cut-glass diction and a glorious range of colours and timbres. At times, the voice is a shade pushed and vibrato is rather too liberally used for the Baroque repertoire, but these are minor quibbles. She’s adeptly supported by Toby Carr, who coaxes soft and sonorous sounds from his theorbo. Between vocal numbers, Carr serves up ‘palate cleansers’ by Visée and Kapsberger – wistful pieces, eloquently played.

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Kate Bolton-Porciatti