ALBUM TITLE: The Secret Lover
WORKS: Works by Kapsberger, Strozzi, Caccini, Ortiz, Rossi, D’India, Shaw, Frescobaldi and Mazzocchi
PERFORMER: Jolle Greenleaf, Molly Quinn (soprano), Virginia Warnken Kelsey (mezzo); Tenet
CATALOGUE NO: AV2326
This recording is a muddle, conceptually and artistically. It features two sopranos and a mezzo who claim to represent the concerto delle donne, a species of three-women vocal consort fashionable at the court of Ferrara from 1568, and later at other northern Italian courts. Yet instead of the glorious repertory of these 16th-century musicians, we are given stylistically and geographically distant 17th-century works in a manner deaf to poetic practice.
Director Jolle Greenleaf has explained that she seeks to ‘honour the spirit’ of Ferrarese sopranos by singing Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677). How do erotic cantatas by a Venetian courtesan honour Ferrarese gentlewomen known for their intricate madrigals? The relevance of the instrumental tracks, mostly by 17th-century male composers active in Rome, is also a mystery.
Greenleaf’s disregard for Italian poetry is equally baffling. The vocal music included here was originally written to extend the impact of recited verse. But, when singing together, the sopranos’ vowels drip with diphthongs, their double consonants sound like single consonants, and in ensemble they bulldoze poetic metre. Embellishments to repeated stanzas are cursory, though Molly Quinn’s fast vibrato suggests the constant application of a trill. Folksy scooping up to notes, especially by Quinn, turns affect into affectedness.
There are exceptions. Virginia Warnken Kelsey’s solos give bold readings underpinned by sultry timbres. Several of the instrumental tracks are lovely, and may even include some premiere recordings – it’s hard to tell, as works are vaguely identified in the booklet. Sadly, The Secret Lover tells us little about the music of early modern women, except how they can still be sold short today.