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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Caro dolce ben mio; Lungi nostro lume; Hor che gli augelli
PERFORMER: Ellen Hargis (soprano), Paul O’Dette (chitarrone, guitar), Andrew Lawrence-King (harp), Hille Perl (lirone, viola da gamba)
Jacopo Peri, every university music student should be able to tell you, was one of music’s revolutionaries, part of the circle of intellectuals and artists in Florence who conceived a return to the principles of Greek drama in music and so gave rise to the birth of the early baroque style and, more specifically, to opera. He’s inevitably suffered in the comparison with Monteverdi. But this disc of seventeen pieces (mostly from Le varie musiche of 1609), settings of poets like Michaelangelo Buonarroti, Rinuccini, Petrarch and the ubiquitous anon, suggests a composer of genuine depth and imagination. Instrumental arrangements – a four-movement Ballo, a gorgeous chitarrone and harp version, played by Paul O’Dette and Andrew Lawrence-King, of the early Caro dolce ben mio, and a gamba (Hilla Perl) and harp version of O meie giorni – demonstrate that the music posseses its own poetry.


But the words do matter, and in the more intense numbers like Lungi nostro lume, the tormented lovelorn outpourings of Tu dormi, e’l dolce sonno and the massive, tragically declamatory Uccidemi dolore Ellen Hargis sings with wonderfully controlled passion. The voice is pure yet characterful, and she adorns her sound with a carefully moderated vibrato. There’s a fine control of dynamic and phrase. She also weighs the lighter strophic settings like the opening Hor che gli augelli to perfection. Stephen Pettitt