Women of Spirit

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Program: #20-22   Air Date: May 18, 2020

Sacred works from convents and courts by women composers in the 17th century.

I. Il Canto delle Dame (Maria Cristina Kiehr, s./Concerto Soave/Jean-Marc Aymes). Ambronay CD AMY025.

Il Canto Delle Dame Product Image

The genesis of Concerto Soave is closely bound up with the music of 17th -century Italian composers. Thus the ensemble was the first, some 15 years ago, to devote a recording to the Sacri Musicali Affetti of Barbara Strozzi (for empreinte digitale). However, the great Venetian woman composer is not the only one who deserves the honour of recording.

Most of these ladies came from the ranks of the aristocracy; some consecrated themselves to God. In both cases, they found the wherewithal not only to compose and to achieve recognition from their peers, but also to publish their output.

María Cristina Kiehr has established a reputation with press and public alike as one of the leading interpreters of baroque vocal music. She is capable of combining the smoothness of her unique timbre with fervent respect for the poetic texts she champions with humility and warmth. Trained by René Jacobs at the schola Cantorum in Basel, she taken part in a large number of recordings and concerts with the finest conductors, such as René Jacobs, Philippe Herreweghe, Frans Brüggen, Jordi Savall, Gustav Leonhardt and Nikolaus Harnoncourt. She has been associated with numerous operatic productions (among them Cesti’s Orontea in Basel, Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea in Montpellier, and Vivaldi’s Dorilla in Tempe in Nice) and appeared on more than 100 recordings.

From Fanfare: This recording by Concerto Soave, a group of six performers who focus on music of the early 17th century, gives a series of pieces by some of the most recognized and perhaps innovative women of their time. At least two of the composers were from artistic families: Francesca Caccini (1587–1640) was the daughter of a leading composer, and Barbara Strozzi (1619–c.1664) was the daughter of a major poet of the time. The former was well known as a singer at the Medici court and indeed wrote a significant number of works, including operas. The latter was so well educated and talented that she was called “the ultimate virtuoso singer” ( virtuosissima cantatrice ) and admitted into the Accademia degli Unisoni, one of the leading artistic collegia of the time. The other two, Isabella Leonarda (1620–1704) and Caterina Assandra (fl.1609–18), were both nuns, but the former was renowned as “the Novara Muse” throughout Europe and the latter a disciple of Benedetto Rè of Pavia. Among the four, they composed several hundred works, the bulk of which was regarded in musical circles as equal to the work of the best musicians of the period. The only lost soul is Giovanni Pietro del Buono, a composer from the Vatican about whom we know very little. None of these composers is exactly unknown to the world of recording, although sometimes the labels can be nearly unobtainable. Nella Anfuso recorded a flight of Caccini’s songs in 2007 on Stilnuovo, while Leonarda’s music appears on Tactus with the Novara Ensemble, and Strozzi is on numerous labels, such as Amon Ra. Even Assandra’s Duo Seraphim had appeared before on Tactus, so this group has not chosen to present premieres exclusively. 

The 12 works are mostly motets, but given that rubric, they vary according to the time written. For example, Caccini’s four works are all drawn from the Primo Libro delle Musiche published in Florence in 1618. One can discern the lyrical lines and fluid ornamentation of her father, Giulio Caccini, in the sonnet Chi è costei with its block accompaniment of organ and theorbo. Maria, dolci Maria , however, seems a bit more primitive, almost a throwback to the declamatory style of two decades earlier; indeed, it seems as if this Marian hymn is a product of her youth, as does the plaintive Lasciatemi qui solo accompanied by a soft lute; the dying away of the text “lasciatemi morir” is poignant beyond belief. My only peeve is the arrangement of Io mi distruggo as a harpsichord solo. It contributes nothing to the set save as a brief, unmemorable diversion; I’d far rather have had the vocal version. But one can find it elsewhere, such as Shannon Mercer’s recording on Analekta of the entire madrigal. Of the other instrumental works, Leonarda’s 1693 sonata is filled with rich timbres, with the continuo and two violins eliciting the thematic contrasts in all three voices. We are in the world of Corelli and Stradella here. Assandra’s Canzon a 4 , an homage to her teacher, seems extremely modern for 1608, perhaps because the continuo keyboard seems to be understated, the organ blending so well that it goes by almost unnoticed. Finally, the del Buono canon fits in quite well, but musically seems the weakest piece of the bunch.

The performance by Concerto Soave is uniformly excellent, done with control of the ornaments, good phrasing to bring out the affect of the texts, and with a blend that demonstrates the integrated, intimate quality of the works. Soprano Maria Kiehr is always right on target with her pitch and interpretation, bringing out the delightful nuances of the works. I particularly like her stentorian calls imitating the trumpet-like strings in Assandra’s O Salutaris hostia. The two violinists are nicely matched, and the various combinations of the continuo are played with subtlety and verve. My advice is to buy this disc as a necessary part of your Baroque collection.

FANFARE: Bertil van Boer 

CATERINA ASSANDRA: Duo Seraphim. 
                                              Canzon a 4. 
                                              O quam suavis. 
                                              O Salutaris hostia. 
 
FRANCESCA CACCINI: Chi è costei. 
                                             Maria, dolce Maria. 
                                             Io mi distruggo.   
                                             Lasciatemi qui solo. 
 
GIOVANNI PIETRO DEL BUONO: Canone sopra Ave Maris Stella 
 
ISABELLA LEONARDA:  Ave suavis dilectio. 
                                               Sonata VII a 3. 
 
BARBARA STROZZI:  Serenata Hor ch’Apollo 
 

II. Queen of Heaven (Reginald L. Mobley, ct./Agave Baroque). VGo Records CD VG1022.

Queen of Heaven by Agave Baroque (2015-08-03) - Amazon.com Music
This most recent release of Agave Baroque, consistsentirely of music by Isabella Leonarda, a 17th century Italian nun who composed a wide variety of vocal and instrumental pieces over a span of sixty years.

Agave Baroque is not an "orchestra" as the heading to this page would suggest. It's a flexible early music ensemble made of of very talented young musicians from the San Francisco Bay Area. On this disc are 

Reginald L. Mobley, countertenor; Henry Lebedinsky, organ; William Skeen, viola da gamba; Karen Cooper, baroque guitar & theorbo; and Aaron Westman & Natalie Carducci, baroque violins.
 
One of the most prolific female composers of the 17th century, the Italian nun Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704) published over 250 sacred works as well as the first collection of instrumental music by a female composer. Acclaimed Boston-based countertenor Reginald Mobley 
 and Agave Baroque present an illuminating program of works for voice, strings, and continuo in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, including two modern-day premieres
 
Sonata quarta, Op. 16 no. 4 (1693)
Quam dulcis Es, Op. 13 no. 2 (1687)
Sonata duodecima, Op. 16, no. 12 (1693)
Venite, laetantes, Op. 20 no. 12 (1700)
Sonata prima, Op. 16 no. 1 (1693)
O Maria, quam dulcis, quam cara, Op. 20 no. 8 (1700)
 

III. Earthly Angels: Music from 17th Century Nun Convents (Earthly Angels Ensemble) (Alba CD ABCD 426).

Earthly Angels Product Image
In the Duchy of Milan in what is now northern Italy, it was a common practice in the 17th century for young girls to enter a convent. In many cases, this was because of circumstances rather than devotion and could not be described as voluntary: at the time, the dowry that a bride’s family was expected to pay her groom on marriage had become incredibly large and hence in many cases unaffordable. According to Robert L. Kendrick (Celestial Sirens, 1996), as many as 75% of the daughters of some aristocratic families in Milan became nuns around the turn of the 17th century; in the second half of the 17th century, the percentage was 48%. The nuns of some convents were very well known in the surrounding community and had both an inner church for their own devotions and an outer church that visitors could attend. These two churches were separated by a wall, so that there was no visual contact between the nuns and the visitors. Sound, on the other hand – speech and song – passed freely through openings near the ceiling.
  • Maria Xaveria Perucona (c.1652-c.1709): . Sacri concerti de motetti à 1, 2, 3 e 4 voci: Ad gaudia, ad iubila  06:16
  • Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704): 2. Sacri concenti, Op. 3: Volo Jesum  09:39
  • Claudia Rusca (1593-1676): 3. Sacri concerti: Canzone seconda  02:30
  • Rosa Giacinta Badalla (c.1660-c.1710): 4. Motetti à voce sola: Non plangete  07:28
  • Leonarda: 5. Sonata à 4 in D Minor, Op. 16 No. 12  10:01
  • Badalla: 6. Motetti à voce sola: Pane angelico  05:44
  • Benedetto Re (fl.1606-1626): 7. Motetti à 2, e 3 voci, Op. 2: Canzona à 4   05:07
  • Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602-c.1677):  8. Salmi à otto... motetti et dialoghi, Op. 3: O quam bonus es   10:04

Composer Info

Francesca Caccini (1587–1640), Barbara Strozzi (1619–c.1664), Isabella Leonarda (1620–1704), Caterina Assandra (fl.1609–18), GIOVANNI PIETRO DEL BUONO, Maria Xaveria Perucona (c.1652-c.1709), Claudia Rusca (1593-1676), Rosa Giacinta Badalla (c.1660-c.1710), Benedetto Re (fl.1606-1626), Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602-c.1677)

CD Info

Ambronay CD AMY025, VGo Records CD VG1022, Alba CD ABCD 426