Vago Desio Op.8 Part 1
Bernardo Gianoncelli

Elissa Edwards Soprano
Richard Kolb Theorbo and Archlute

Acis APL90277
Full Price

The Review

This set of cantatas and arias date from 1664 when Barbara Strozzi was in her mid forties and stylistically moving away from the first flush of the baroque towards freer dramatic expression. Sadly they are the last works we can be certain are by her, though she lived for another 13 years.

Strozzi is becoming widely celebrated as one of the Venetian greats of the 17th century, though in her own time her reputation was as high as most, even if subsequent centuries downgraded her, partly because of gender prejudice but also partly because she did not write opera or publish instrumental music.

Daughter of a poet who was one of the leaders of the intellectual circle around Monteverdi, she was firecely independent, a pupil of Cavalli, and seems to have avoided many of the traps that were laid for talented women in northern Italy at the time, including marriage – though she had four children with Giovanni Vidman, a nobleman who was part of the family circle. Not surprisingly, she suits the narrative of our times.

Lutenist Richard Kolb probably knows Strozzi’s music in greater depth than anyone around, having compiled his own complete edition. There is therefore an inevitable authority to this recording and Kolb finds a careful balance between straightforward accompaniment and decorative invention – authority too in Elissa Edwards’ performance. Her career straddles the Atlantic and, a specialist in baroque gesture as well as song, she captures the expressive Strozzi style well.

If that sounds a little too academic, the listener can relax. There is an easy flow to their performances that convey the dramatic elegance of Strozzi’s cantatas without becoming stuck in the formality. Strozzi respects the patterns of the poetry (no doubt influenced by her father) but lifts them higher. Kolb interrupts the flow of the Strozzi vocal music by interpolating some lute solo Corrente by Strozzi’s lesser known contemporary, Gianoncelli. They do come as a bit of relief because Edwards sometimes lacks a little variety of colour and dynamic, and there are patches in her voice that are thinner than is ideal. This means that this cannot be a definitive recording but it does not miss by much. So many good singers are now tackling Strozzi’s music that there may be emerging competitors. In the meantime this accomplished programme will do nicely.