Orpheus: Songs, arias and madrigals by Johnson, Draghi, Greene, Byrd, Rasi, Monteverdi, Rossi et al

Julian Prégardien; Teatro del Mondo/Andreas Küppers (CPO)

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Orpheus Songs, arias and madrigals by Johnson, Draghi, Greene, Byrd, Rasi, Monteverdi, Rossi et al
Julian Prégardien (tenor); Teatro del Mondo/Andreas Küppers
CPO 555168-2 72:50 mins

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Recounting the myth of Orpheus, this thoughtfully planned programme interlards extracts from famous early Italian operas by Peri and Monteverdi with less familiar works, taking the listener on a real journey of discovery. From the land of light, we plunge into the abyss with Domenico Belli’s impassioned monody Numi d’Abisso, while Antonio Draghi’s hymn-like Al suon di questa lira soothes the spirit. There are melancholy English ayres by Thomas Campion, and arias – by turns declamatory and melodious – from a masque by Robert Johnson and a cantata by Maurice Green. Among the German responses, Johann Erasmus Kindermann’s Orphic songs almost prefigure the Romantic lied in their compressed expressivity.

Julian Prégardien has all the qualities of a fine lyric tenor, his voice sheer, clean, open. Informed by his experience in 18th-century opera and German Lieder, his approach is mellifluous and expressive – best suited to the later settings (Green, Kindermann, Purcell) which benefit from a more lyrical approach; the earlier, more intimate Italian monodies are a shade over-projected. Interlacing the vocal numbers are contemporary instrumental works, colourfully scored and realised with terrific improvisatory flair by Teatro del Mondo. A nice touch is the addition of an orpharion – an unusual cittern-like instrument, and the spiritual descendent of Orpheus’s lyre.

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Kate Bolton-Porciatti