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Cantatas (secular) - Released July 9, 2021 | London Philharmonic Orchestra

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Secular Vocal Music - Released June 4, 2021 | Ricercar

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It's always a wonderful thing when a dream-team of artists resurrects and ravishingly records lesser-known repertoire, and that's precisely what we have here from Leonardo García Alarćon's Capella Mediterranea, joined by sopranos Mariana Flores and Julie Roset. Alive roughly between 1582 and 1629, musician-courtesan Sigismondo d'India was writing just as the late Renaissance style gave way to the early Baroque, and in parallel with Monteverdi he was a key figure in developing that new musical language – one which broke free of the fixed rules of polyphony, and moved instead towards monodies in a more mannered style whose raison d'être was to express heightened emotion; D'India then consolidated that new, intensely expressive way of writing in the five books of accompanied monodies he produced between 1609 and 1623. And if all that sounds a bit textbook, the bottom line is that the selection of madrigal-esque accompanied pieces for one or two sopranos Alarcon has presented over this generous two-disc programme plunge the listener into such a world of silence-imbued, soulful melancholic beauty and contemplation that, once you've dived in, re-surfacing feels thoroughly painful. Of course it's Flores and Roset who play the starring roles in all this magic. In tonal quality alone they've been brilliantly cast, their respective ethereally pure voices a perfect match both for each other and for the music, Flores's tones just a shade softer and darker than those of Roset. Then there's their warmly expressive readings of the texts, and the technical control and colouristic nuance of their embellishments as they gently float their lines. Essentially, you're mere seconds into their curtain-raising duet, Ardo, lassa, o non ardo?, when you've clocked that this is album is a gold-plated keeper. Meanwhile the sensitive support from Cappella Mediterranea – appearing here in a chamber subset of lute, theorbo, harp and viola da gamba, led by Alarćon at the harpsichord and organ – is exquisitely delicate, lucid-textured and seductively shaped; tone-setting and responsive in equal measure, they've given Flores and Roset everything they need to bounce off. Listen to any one of these tracks in isolation and you'll give yourself a precious few minutes of contemplative bliss, but I'd be surprised if one proves to be enough. Essentially, this is an album to lose yourself in. © Charlotte Gardner/Qobuz
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Secular Vocal Music - Released January 22, 2021 | Nonesuch

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The wide variety of ways one could refer to Caroline Shaw shows what a unique talent she is: Pulitzer Prize winner, vocalist, violinist, frequent Kanye West collaborator, and composer for cello, piano, voice, string quartet, viola, orchestra, and flower pots. Shaw's thick resume belies the relative brevity of her tenure so far on this planet (she's only 38), but over the last decade or so, she has piled a stunning variety of artistic successes upon one another. Such range, however, is not indicative of any sort of dilettantism in her approach to the work, which is consistently serious, thoughtful, well-researched, and inventive. And even though her work with Kanye may have gotten her some attention in some surprising circles, it was the success of 2019's Orange, which featured six of her string quartet pieces performed by Attacca Quartet, that brought her work a much wider audience. That extraordinary effort showcased her rigorous and uncompromising approach to composition, and was likely one of the most daring classical albums to crack the public consciousness in years. Now, she follows it up with an even more challenging and rewarding work. Narrow Sea is a short album—the five-part titular composition clocks in at just under 20 minutes, and the additional piece here, "Taxidermy," is less than 10—but it is rich with ideas. Composed for voice, piano, and percussion, Narrow Sea is both ethereal and earthy, and the spacious and expansive tangle of sounds benefits from the humanity of Dawn Upshaw's soprano, the complex and varied textures of Sō Percussion's instrumentation, and the gentle melodic anchors of Gil Kalish's piano. Shaw's facility at composing for voice is radiantly clear in Upshaw's mournful, searching interpretations of these spiritual lyrics (inspired by a text of 19th century hymns called The Sacred Harp), while her more exploratory tendencies are borne out wonderfully by the Brooklyn-based Sō Percussion crew, which works with everything from flowing water and insistent humming to Shaw's beloved flower pots. While the bulk of Narrow Sea is quite percussive, it's not an overtly rhythmic composition (aside from the heartbeat rhythm that sits a bit off-tempo during "Part 1"), depending instead on Kalish's piano work to anchor it. Album closer "Taxidermy" is densely rhythmic, with gamelan-esque marimbas and clanging flower pots underlying a thicket of vocal phrasings; it's a sharp contrast to the rest of the work, but stands as more invigorating evidence of Shaw's incredible abilities. © Jason Ferguson/Qobuz

Secular Vocal Music - Released August 1, 2020 | Troba Vox

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Secular Vocal Music - Released June 19, 2020 | SFS Media

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This 2020 release was Michael Tilson Thomas' final album as conductor of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. That he chose to present his own music suggests that he considers it underexposed, and he makes a good case. The two works were written 30 years apart, and although they share a common use of tonality, ranging from conventional to atonal, they are entirely different in most ways. From the Diary of Anne Frank was composed in 1990 for actress Audrey Hepburn in connection with her United Nations work. Frank's words are spoken, in melodrama fashion, over an illustrative orchestral background, and the fine reader here is Isabel Leonard, in an unaffected American accent. Meditations on Rilke was composed in 2019, and it hardly sounds like anything you might imagine from the title. From the opening passage of honky-tonk piano, recalling a small-town sojourn of Rilke's father, the score is startlingly eclectic. The reference point here is the orchestral songs of Mahler, and the cycle suggests a 21st century version of that composer. That sounds odd with poetry by Rilke, which has a certain specific mood, but somehow it works, and the cycle has a pleasing quality of being jam-packed with ideas. The San Francisco Symphony plays with total commitment to the occasion, and this release might easily stimulate interest in Tilson Thomas' other music. © TiVo
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Secular Vocal Music - Released April 3, 2020 | Philharmonia Baroque Productions

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Historically oriented ensembles have long had an affinity for contemporary music, rooted in an anti-Romantic aesthetic common to the two musical scenes. Many groups have premiered new works of a more or less modernist bent, but the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra takes a new approach in this pair of works from composer Caroline Shaw: the group asked for music that specifically used the resources offered by historical instruments, genres, and performance techniques. The result is a highly accessible pair of works that don't sound quite like anything else out there. Is a Rose is a cycle of three songs written for mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, sounding fabulous as she enters senior citizenhood. With "rose" texts by Gertrude Stein, Robert Burns, and contemporary poet Jacob Polley, the three works were premiered at different times but cohere as a set, making one hear Baroque features such as a harpsichord in new ways. The half-hour The Listeners draws on the Baroque oratorio genre but is entirely original in conception, inspired by that of the so-called "Golden Record" carried into space by the U.S. Voyager probe in 1977. Shaw draws on texts from Tennyson and Walt Whitman to contemporary poet Yesenia Montilla, together with vintage messages from Carl Sagan and United Nations Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim. Broadly appealing and rooted in the past, yet entirely novel, these works show why Shaw is becoming one of the most popular new composers. © TiVo
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Secular Vocal Music - Released November 29, 2019 | Decca

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Diapason d'or / Arte
She had to dare. Cecilia Bartoli appears on this album cover nude, androgynous, in a full beard and with hair down to her shoulders, delving deeper into the legend surrounding Farinelli, already explored with questionable sensationalism in the world of cinema and replaced with more correct historical precision in Patrick Barbier's brilliant book dedicated to the famous Neapolitan castrato. The now-lost voice of castratos made eager crowds go wild at the time, the singers carrying a certain mythical aura around them, attributed to the confusion of their gender, bathed in an ambiguous eroticism. These music lovers have not however disappeared: they're the ones rushing to hear the Italian singer's vocal prowess both in concert and on disc. For this opus dedicated to Farinelli, Cecilia Bartoli has chosen well-known melodies from the repertoire of the famous singer, varying her vocal fireworks she is so renowned for with some more dramatic, introspective tunes. Cecilia Bartoli conjures up Porpora, Hasse, Giacomelli, Caldara and Riccardo Broschi, Farinelli's own brother in a thrilling spectacle which aims, if not to uncover a hypothetical voice of the past, to replicate the chills it could produce thanks to her passion and dedication to the art. © François Hudry/Qobuz
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Secular Vocal Music - Released November 15, 2019 | Erato - Warner Classics

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason - 5 Sterne Fono Forum Klassik
Christina Pluhar has long been interested in the vocal music of the 17th century, in particular that of composer Luigi Rossi born around 1597 in the beautiful province of Puglia. He was the titular composer to the Medicis in Florence before taking a job with Cardinal Barberini in Rome. In France, Cardinal Mazarin commissioned him to produce the first Italian opera written specifically for the French court. In a manner of speaking, Rossi is at the root of the productions that another Italian, Lully, would later write for Louis XIV. In 2005, Christina Pluhar had recorded the Lyra d'Orfeo, taken from Rossi's desk drawer, with her ensemble L'Arpeggiata, with the voice of Veronique Gens in all its splendour. But a legal problem arose which prevented its production as a record for nearly 15 years. With the lawsuit ongoing, Christina Pluhar completed her project with Arpa Davidica, a new original compilation of works by Luigi Rossi, which she and her assistants discovered in various libraries. Pluhar has selected a series of virtuoso, theatrical pieces geared closely to the lyrics, as Rossi would set to music the most beautiful poems of his day. Taking on the best voices of the moment, Cécile Scheen, Giuseppina Bridelli, Philippe Jaroussky, Jakub Józef Orliński and Valer Sabadus, Christina Pluhar has pulled out all the stops to bring enchanting and incredibly musically-rich material back to life. The few indications relating to the instrumental accompaniment left on the manuscripts leave the performers almost total freedom. They can imagine all sorts of instrumental combinations to link complicated melismas with the virtuosity of the vocal lines that the composer intended. The interpretation also works as a complete recreation. © François Hudry/Qobuz

Secular Vocal Music - Released October 25, 2019 | harmonia mundi

Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason
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Much gossip has surrounded the double murder committed by Carlo Gesualdo, who killed his young wife and her lover when he caught them in flagrante delicto. The remorse he felt for this atrocious crime is said to have inspired the Neapolitan composer to write new harmonies, using and abusing scraping and characterful chromatisms. Paul Agnew takes aim at this widespread belief, contending that "this aristocratic double murder only indirectly influenced the musician's life." In a very interesting introductory text, the "Associate Musical Director" of the Arts Florissants sets the figure of Gesualdo back into his historical context, explaining just how his tormented psychological state would have fed into his own musical evolution, alongside the musical journeys of his peers. The same line of argument is also made by musicologist Denis Morrier in his analysis of the two first Books of Madrigals, which are presented here: "At once visionary and conservative, eccentric in language and conventional in form, these works have fascinated musicians and commentators across the ages", he writes. Following the recording of 17 madrigals from Book IV to Book VI, conducted by William Christie in 1988, this new album marks the first stage of a complete recording of Gesualdo's Madrigals, which are to be performed across three seasons at the Philharmonie de Paris. Passionate, violent, dark and burning with meaning, Gesualdo's music touches the heart and speaks to us of the doubts and contradictions of the human soul. © François Hudry/QobuzThis album was named "Gramophone Recording of the year 2020" in the"Early Music" category. 
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Secular Vocal Music - Released April 5, 2019 | Arcana

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Despite the rivalry between the operatic companies leaded by Haendel and Porpora in London (1734-1737), much has to be said about the real nature of the connection between the two composers. Both the musicians were considered outstandingly original for their aesthetic choices. Both admired each other's music. The few whirlwind years of their defiance in Great Britain produced memorable scores: among them, Ariodante by Haendel and Polifemo by Porpora, performed with simultaneous runs in the city theaters. The fight between the two operatic company was an opportunity for the composers to meet and discover each other, to deal with the taste of the audience and to experiment new ideas, getting strength from the incredible skills of the members of the vocal casts (Farinelli, Senesino, Carestini, etc.). This album tries to capture the soul of such a complicated intellectual relationship, presenting significant exemples of the composers' style and outlining the borders of the mutual esteem between two giants in the history of music. On her debut solo album, the young talented mezzosoprano Giuseppina Bridelli performs with effortless bravery the difficult pages written for some of the most famous singers of the 18th century: between them, a version with original variations of Haendel Scherza infida. © Arcana
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Secular Vocal Music - Released March 1, 2019 | Signum Records

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The Choral Scholars of University College Dublin and Artistic Director Desmond Earley follow up their debut release with a programme of new choral music inspired by the evocative imagery of the natural world in traditional Irish and Scottish folksong and poetry. The disc includes a number of world-premiere recordings of new works and arrangements commissioned by the choir. The Choral Scholars of University College Dublin, under the artistic direction of Desmond Earley, is Ireland’s leading collegiate choral ensemble. His large repertoire is ranging from art to popular music, and stretching from the medieval to the contemporary in style.
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Secular Vocal Music - Released March 1, 2019 | Dacapo

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason
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Secular Vocal Music - Released January 25, 2019 | Alpha

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Choc de Classica
Mezzo-soprano Eva Zaïcik, who has signed up with Alpha for several recordings, is one of the most prominent vocal artists of her generation. She was chosen as ‘Révélation lyrique’ at the Victoires de la Musique Classique 2018, and elected the same year a Laureate of the prestigious Queen Elizabeth of Belgium Competition. She has participated in the “Jardin des Voix” of les Arts Florissants under William Christie, also regularly collaborates with Le Poème Harmonique and Vincent Dumestre – but her constant accompanist is the harpsichordist Justin Taylor. Together with two other musician graduates, the violinists Théotime Langlois de Swarte, Sophie de Bardonnèche and the gamba player Louise Pierrard, they have founded Le Consort, to explore both sacred and secular works by composers such as Charpentier, Campra and Clérambault. For this recording they are joined by the flautist Anna Besson and gamba player Lucile Boulanger, both well-known to the Alpha label, and Thibault Roussel (theorbo). This recording is devoted to the Cantatas of Lefebvre, Montéclair, Clérambault and Courbois, more than half of which have never previously been recorded. The cantata inspired non-operatic composers to play out the fashionable narratives of the day on a reduced scale, and in the intimate surroundings of the salons. It is a subtle genre and a vivid depiction of the characters. © Outhere Music
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Secular Vocal Music - Released January 4, 2019 | Glossa

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With Vieni, dolce Imeneo, La Compagnia del Madrigale make another important halt on their compelling journey across the territory of Italian secular song with a disc devoted to one of the most significant, yet these days somewhat bypassed, composers: Cipriano de Rore. De Rore was a Fleming who enjoyed great success notably in the Italian courts of Ferrara and Parma – but with a prestige which extended up and across Europe. He composed in many genres, but it is the secular madrigal – recorded here – where his skill was most valued, for example in creating extended and expressive melodic lines coupled with innovatory pre-echoes of the “seconda pratica” so triumphantly expressed – albeit amidst great criticism – by Claudio Monteverdi. Recordings – all also on Glossa – of madrigals by Marenzio, Gesualdo and Monteverdi have already demonstrated musical pleasures such as an uncommon vocal blend and delicacy, and a meticulous dynamic control exhibited by the richly experienced members of La Compagnia del Madrigale, and those delights are to be experienced with these 19 madrigals by Cipriano de Rore, composed late in his career. With texts by Petrarch, Ariosto and assorted court poets for these madrigals, essay-writer Marco Bizzarini highlights one of the principal characteristic features of de Rore’s mastery when he points to the disc’s title track, Vieni, dolce Imeneo: the ideal union between poetry and music. © Glossa
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Cantatas (secular) - Released December 7, 2018 | CPO

Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason
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Secular Vocal Music - Released November 30, 2018 | Aparté

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason - Gramophone Editor's Choice
This recital by the countertenor Xavier Sabata, accompanied by Arnadí's Vespres ensemble, takes its title "L'Alessandro amante" from a lost homonymous opera by Giovanni Boretti. Why Alexander the Great? He is the most exploited historical figure in the history of opera, especially in the Baroque period, with Metastasio’s libretto Alessandro nell'Indie basing some sixty-five operas on the figure. Moreover, the historical Alexander was a complex figure, a mixture of violence, arrogance and ambition, but also a generous man, knowing how to recognize the humanity of an enemy by considering them his equal. The journey onto which his figure invites us is twofold: a biographical journey through battles, conquests and achievements first (not always historically accurate, mind...), as well as a musical journey through a hundred years, from 1660 to 1760, at a time when immense changes were occurring almost every twenty years. We therefore travel from Antonio Draghi to Nicola Porpora, via Handel, Leo, Bononcini and a few others in the same vein. The recital offers as many different "Alexanders" as it does pieces, though two major groups emerge: Alexander the warrior, reserved for higher voices, and Alexander the lover, whose melodies are entrusted to the alto register. Of course, Sabata can cover both poles. © SM/Qobuz
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Cantatas (secular) - Released November 23, 2018 | Erato

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason - Gramophone Record of the Month - Choc de Classica - 5 Sterne Fono Forum Klassik
Handel's Italian cantatas date from early in his career, with few exceptions (none on display here). As a group they are less well-known than his operas, but they're equally virtuosic, and performances of the cantatas whole, as with the three here, are a bit more satisfying than with the operas. The cantatas were composed for parties among powerful Roman cardinals, and they catch the young Handel at the peak of his first success, as Roman audiences hailed him as "il caro Sassone" (the dear Saxon). The arias are fancy and a bit brash, and one key to a good performance is to catch this quality. Both the singers here, French soprano Sabine Devieilhe and French-Italian mezzo Lea Desandre, are up-and-comers, and they offer fine, dramatically enthusiastic performances. The highlight is perhaps the first cantata of the set, Aminta e Fillide, HWV 83, where the contrast between the sparkling Devieilhe and the silvery-voiced Desandre is a pleasure in itself. This is a pastoral where the long-suffering shepherd gets the girl, for a change, even though she dismisses Cupid's charms (sample Desandre in "Fu scherzo, fu gioco," with its quiet high notes). The second and third works are solo cantatas, one for each singer, and Desandre effectively changes gears for subtle interactions with an active continuo cello. Both singers are aided superbly by Le Concert d'Astrée under Emmanuelle Haïm, a veteran group by this time but one that sounds entirely fresh in this delightful vocal program. © TiVo
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Cantatas (secular) - Released November 2, 2018 | Ricercar

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason - 5 Sterne Fono Forum Klassik - 5 étoiles de Classica
Given that he wrote about 115 operas (of which at least 70 have survived to this day), 800 cantatas of all kinds, shedloads of symphonies and serenades, and dozens of the most varied kinds of liturgical works, Alessandro Scarlatti remains under-played today. The album concentrates on a few of these innumerable cantatas which are almost all preserved in their original manuscript form and quite a few of which belong to the Arcadian genre. This is to say that they deal with the bucolic mythology of nymphs and shepherds from Arcadia (in the Peloponnese in Greece) developed during the Renaissance. Love, betrayal and reunions are all displayed here, some in solo cantatas – soprano or baritone – and other cantatas in dialogue for two voices. Some have nothing but a continuo for an accompaniment, others have two violins with continuo. Everything seems to indicate that at the time of writing these pieces were meant to entertain nobles in their palaces, especially during the many periods of the year when the Church forbade public performances. Without a doubt these pieces were played once or twice and then forgotten... And here they are, rescued from oblivion by the soprano Deborah Cachet and the baritone Nicolas Achten, who, as well as singing, conducts his ensemble Scherzi Musicali and plays the theorbo, the triple harp and the organ. © SM/Qobuz
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Secular Vocal Music - Released September 21, 2018 | SOMM Recordings

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 étoiles de Classica
Somm Recordings is delighted to present a revelatory collection of orchestral songs by Sir Edward Elgar (on double slimline selling as a single disc), performed by two of today’s most exciting young singers – mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge and baritone Henk Neven – accompanied by the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Barry Wordsworth. Historically the least regarded part of Elgar’s output, his songs contain a treasure-trove of vocal gems and here receive performances of insight, imagination and emotional directness. The Op. 59 Song Cycle is an exemplary case in point, by turns quietly radiant, touchingly nostalgic and achingly melancholic. Two settings of poems by Elgar’s wife – the richly orchestrated The Wind at Dawn and celebratory The King’s Way (which borrows a tune from his Fourth Pomp and Circumstance March) – show Elgar at his most evocative and ebullient. Sombre and powerful, The Pipes of Pan boasts colourful imagery and driving rhythmic energy, The River and The Torch wholly Elgarian in their wonderful sonorities. A first recording of the orchestral version of the marching song Follow the Colours shows Elgar at his most patriotic. The complete incidental music for a 1901 staging of WB Yeats’ Grania and Diarmid offers a rare opportunity to experience the full gamut of Elgar’s moving and dramatic evocation of a timeless tale of love in the ancient Irish myth. A bonus disc of recordings made under the auspices of the Elgar Society showcases soprano Nathalie de Montmollin and pianist Barry Collett in a collection of piano-accompanied songs. It includes first recordings of the piano version of ‘Winter’ from The Mill Wheel (with its churning left-hand patterns and a text by the composer’s wife) and the world-weary tread of Muleteer’s Serenade, setting words from Cervantes’ Don Quixote.© Somm Recordings
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Cantatas (secular) - Released September 21, 2018 | Fra Bernardo

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