Heroines of Love and Loss

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bennet,F Caccini,Kapsberger,Piccinini,Purcell,Sessa,Strozzi,Vivaldi & Vizzana
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: Heroines of Love and Loss
WORKS: Works by Bennet, F Caccini, Sessa, Kapsberger, Piccinini, Purcell, Strozzi, Vivaldi & Vizzana
PERFORMER: Ruby Hughes (soprano), Mime Yamahiro Brinkmann (cello), Jonas Nordberg (theorbo, lute, archlute)
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-2248 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Reflecting on the timeless themes of love and loss, this unusual programme throws the spotlight on some all but forgotten vocal works by a handful of 17th-century Italian female composers, interlacing them with similarly elegiac instrumental music. Highlights include several pieces with distinct echoes of Monteverdi: the Bolognese nun Lucrezia Vizzana’s impassioned ‘O magnum mysterium’, Francesca Caccini’s ‘Lasciatemi qui solo’, a haunting utterance inspired by the Florentine recitative style, and two laments by the Venetian courtesan Barbara Strozzi – the trembling ‘Lagrime mie’ and the dramatic aria ‘L’Eraclito amoroso’, which weaves its spell over a four-note descending ground bass. Finally, a melismatic setting of Mary’s meditation on the eyes of the dead Christ – ‘Occhi io vissi di voi’ – by the Milanese nun Claudia Sessa, conveys a sense of rapt mysticism. Punctuating the vocal works are wistful and delicate instrumental pieces by Piccinini, Kapsberger and Vivaldi.

Ruby Hughes’s soprano has an effortless beauty: pliant, subtly expressive, never forced. She captures the chaste fervour of the sacred works, though her passion is arguably rather too restrained in Strozzi and Caccini’s more dramatic outpourings. Brinkmann and Nordberg proffer aptly spontaneous continuo realisations, varying timbre and texture and adding discreet embellishments according to the poetic moment. Their playing in the instrumental pieces is equally refined. 

The slightly distant balance in a resonant acoustic lets the vocal high notes float but some of the colour and impact of Hughes’s lower register is lost.

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Kate Bolton-Porciatti