A new foray into Schubert Lieder proves an ideal partnership.
Alexandra Coghlan is the classical music critic for the New Statesman, and also writes for The Independent, The Times, Opera, Prospect, Gramophone and The Monthly. She was formerly performing arts editor at Time Out Sydney and editor of Sinfini.
Articles by Alexandra Coghlan
Frozen, pitted surface of Padmore’s new Winterreise proves hard to crack.
Too much blood and not enough thunder in Gheorghiu’s verismo.
Sweet dreams from rising bel canto star who is pretty much the real deal.
Chamber recital from Scholl and friends brings out best in both.
The Peruvian star sets his sights on Mozart with mixed results.
Blowing the dust off the duet is a delight from start to finish.
This 18th-century musical party is full of colours and thrills.
Ill-judged, poorly executed: a waste of performers’ talents.
Kaufmann journeys back in time for his best solo disc in years.
A tribute to a legend, and a solo debut of rare drama and scope.
Are the heroines of the title the female narrators of these songs and arias, or are they the composers – women including Claudia Sesa, Barbara Strozzi, Francesca Caccini and Lucrezia Vizzana – who surmounted impossible challenges to give voice to their music? They are, of course, both, and it’s a combination that makes for a charged programme. A natural storyteller never afraid to paint period music in rich hues, soprano Ruby Hughes delights in the expressive details of Strozzi’s arioso-like L’Eraclito Amoroso and Lagrime mie. Both are closer to opera than chamber music, the latter opening in a prescient clatter of chromatics. If Hughes takes risks, they only match those of the music. Sesa and Vizzana represent the women confined to convents, for whom music was a rare emotional and expressive outlet. Sesa’s Occhi io vissi di voi has all the erotic spirituality of Teresa of Avila’s writings – a love-song clothed in vestments, and while Vizzana’s O Magnum Mysterium is more restrained, the contrast of the chromatic wounds of the verse to the consonant balm of the Alleluia is a poignant as it is sophisticated. Leavening the vocal music with a thoughtful selection of instrumental works, Jonas Nordberg and Mime…
According to 16th-century clerics, convent polyphony was dangerous, liable to lead nuns into vanity and other wickedness. Listening to the sensuous contrapuntal writhings and twinings, the ecstatic, rapturous beauty of these motets – possibly by Lucrezia Borgia’s daughter Leonora d’Este – you wonder if they didn’t have a point. The motets are from the Musica quinque vocum motteta maternal lingua vocata – the earliest published collection of polyphony composed for nuns. As piece after piece of graceful, equal-voice counterpoint unfolds, what’s striking is how progressive and sophisticated the style is for the 1540s, its smooth consonance spiced with occasional hits of chromaticism, its long lines embellished with little gilded flickers of ornamentation. With voice-parts confined to a two-octave range the risk is of a lack of scope. But thanks to careful deployment of solo and collective forces – the professional singers of Musica Secreta and excellent amateurs of Celestial Sirens – and judicious use of bass viol and organ, there’s enough delicate variation to keep things interesting. Haec dies is rejoicing, kept from all-out ebullience by its dark modality, while the filmy Hodie Simon Petrus, with its imitative upper voices and lace-like detailing, unfolds in rapt arcs. The longest work,…