Clas­si­cal OAE/Curnyn

The Guardian - G2 - - Live Reviews - Tim Ash­ley

★★★★☆

Kings Place, Lon­don

Venus Un­wrapped runs through­out the year

‘The first work that I, as a woman, all too dar­ingly bring to the light of day,” Bar­bara Strozzi wrote when her First Book of Madri­gals was printed in 1644. Hugely ad­mired as a singer and song­writer in 17th-cen­tury Venice, Strozzi was among the first fe­male com­posers to pub­lish un­der her own name. So it seemed en­tirely ap­pro­pri­ate that a se­lec­tion of her work, per­formed by the Orches­tra and Choir of the Age of En­light­en­ment un­der Chris­tian Curnyn, should open Venus Un­wrapped, an ad­ven­tur­ous cel­e­bra­tion of more than 140 fe­male com­posers past and present that runs at Kings Place through­out the year.

Strozzi’s work is of­ten star­tling in its emo­tional di­rect­ness. In her day she was par­tic­u­larly fa­mous for per­for­mances of her own mono­logues, two of which were sung here by Mary Be­van, who blazed her way through the an­guished La­grime Mie with great con­vic­tion and brought ironic poise to È Pazzo il Mio Core with its ex­pres­sion of the va­garies of de­sire. Strozzi’s madri­gals, how­ever, proved to be the real rev­e­la­tions. Canto di Bella Bocca, with its over­lap­ping vo­cal writ­ing for so­prano (Miriam Allen) and tenor (Ni­cholas Mul­roy), sounded very sexy, and there was some mar­vel­lous ensem­ble singing in L’Amante Modesto and the rav­ish­ing Si­len­tio No­civo, which brought the first half to a close.

The in­ti­macy of Strozzi’s mu­sic con­trasted sharply with the grander – and notably mas­cu­line – state­ments of Mon­teverdi’s Vol­gendo il Ciel and Il Ballo delle In­grate, both writ­ten for state oc­ca­sions, which came af­ter the in­ter­val. Mul­roy made a fine Poet in Vol­gendo il Ciel, pre­sid­ing over its cer­e­mo­ni­als with el­e­gant no­bil­ity. Il Ballo delle In­grate, writ­ten for a wed­ding at the Man­tuan court, is a bit­ter­sweet cau­tion­ary tale, in which Venus (He­len Charl­ston) and Cupid (Zoe Brook­shaw) per­suade Pluto (the ex­cel­lent David Ship­ley) to briefly re­lease from the un­der­world the souls of women who re­jected love in their life­times, one of whom (Be­van) bids a poignant clos­ing farewell to the world she must yet again leave be­hind. It was beau­ti­fully sung, and Curnyn probed its am­bi­gu­i­ties with great sub­tlety and fi­nesse.

Sub­tlety and fi­nesse … Curnyn and the OAE

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