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WORKS: Schiere invitte, non tardate; Ogni core pùo sperar; Ove son? Chi m’alta? In mezzo all’ombre… dal mio petto; etc
PERFORMER: Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo-soprano); O Barocchisti/Diego Fasolis


You’ll have to comb the back of this CD cover to discover that all the music here is by the shadowy Italian Baroque composer Agostino Steffani, though he’s the real star of the project. Indeed, if you hadn’t stumbled upon his name in the small print, you might think these opera arias and duets are by Handel, so lyrically beautiful and dramatically compelling are they. The truth is that Handel ‘borrowed’ liberally from his older contemporary, and throughout this disc one hears pre-echoes of Handelian opera and oratorio.

The eclectic influences of Steffani’s intriguing life (itself the inspiration for Donna Leon’s novel The Jewels of Paradise, published in conjunction with the CD) ebb and flow through this sequence: Showy bravura offsets melancholy introspection; quick-fire coloratura gives way to lyricism. Martial percussion, gleaming brass and rich harmonies colour the Italian idiom, while French dance rhythms, by turns robust and graceful, pervade.

Bartoli’s plummy mezzo soars, smoulders and seduces, milking the music’s vocal and expressive scope to dramatic effect. It’s hard to resist her sparkling personality and infectious passion for this repertoire, much of which she has unearthed herself. The Choir of Swiss Radio & Television and the animated playing of I Barocchisti enhance the sheer theatre and scale of Steffani’s talent. With 21 world premieres, and a glossy accompanying booklet, this is truly a revelatory disc.


Kate Bolton