The Queen’s Music

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COMPOSERS: Carissimi,Cesti,Frescobaldi,Rossi & Anon
WORKS: Italian Duets and Trios by Carissimi, Cesti, Frescobaldi, Rossi & Anon
PERFORMER: Emma Kirkby, Susanne Rydén (soprano), Peter Harvey (baritone), Mikael Bellini (countertenor), Mime Yamahiro Brinkmann (cello), Lars Ulrik Mortensen (harpsichord)


This repertoire comes from a book of love songs and ensembles by three Italian composers known as the maggiori lumi (the ‘greatest lights’) of their day: Giacomo Carissimi, Antonio Cesti and Luigi Rossi.

Compiled by Roman musicians working at the Swedish Court of Queen Christina, the manuscript was subsequently presented to Oliver Cromwell’s ambassador in Sweden, in whose hands it found its way to Oxford. If the Italians wanted to seduce their northern patrons with the suave, dramatic, and quasi-erotic style of their music and poetry, then the gift can hardly have failed. Small wonder Queen Christina promptly abdicated and moved to Rome!

Many of the settings exploit the sensual intertwining of two soprano voices over a basso continuo – a luscious musical texture, inspired by the Italian trio sonata, that delighted Baroque composers from Monteverdi onwards. Emma Kirkby, dewy-voiced as ever, and Swedish soprano Susanne Rydén make exquisite partners, ever-sensitive to the music’s subtle nuances and graceful ornamentation.


Between the vocal numbers are keyboard toccatas by Girolamo Frescobaldi – celebrated organist of St Peter’s, Rome, who dazzled his contemporaries with virtuoso fireworks and chiaroscuro effects. Harpsichordist Lars Ulrik Mortensen is aptly glittering. Kate Bolton