McNeff: Madrigali dell’Estate

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LABELS: Champs Hill
ALBUM TITLE: McNeff: Madrigali dell’Estate
WORKS: Madrigali dell’Estate; Farfalle di Neve; A Voice Of One Delight; Three Abruzzo Folk Songs
PERFORMER: Clare McCaldin (mezzo-soprano), Andrew West (piano); Orchestra Nova Ensemble


For those, like me, whose history lessons taught them that Gabriele d’Annunzio was a ruthless politician and rival of Mussolini, it will come as something of a surprise to discover his sunlit poetry, tracking the hills and Adriatic coast of Italy’s Abruzzo. Stephen McNeff’s love of the region, and of its renowned poet, shines out of his Madrigali dell’Estate, composed for Clare McCaldin’s Royal Opera House recital, and sung here by her with real commitment and imagination, in lively partnership with the pianist Andrew West.

Here are brilliantly backlit cameos of sand and tide, shore and slimy estuary: a hedgehog at dawn, and a strange horse at evening. The voice recreates the sensuous, sensual energies of the words, moving between supple, heightened arioso and athletic lyricism.

Here, too, is a four-song monodrama about the life and death of Shelley – who died in the bay of La Spezia. This was originally composed for McCaldin’s 2010 residency at the Presteigne Festival. The recital is completed by McNeff’s irresistible Abruzzo folksong settings, sung in dialect and vividly coloured by the instrumental soloists in the Orchestra Nova Ensemble.


Hilary Finch