MONTEVERDI: L’Orfeo: Prologue. Scherzi Musicale: Zefiro torna;* Et è pur dunque vero. Quarto scherzo della ariose vaghezze: La mia turca; Lamento della Ninfa;+ Si dolce è il tormento; Ohime ch’io cado. Lamento d’Arianna. L’Incoronazioone di Poppea: Pur ti miro.* Confitebor tibi Domine / Anna Lucia Richter, sop; *Dimitri Sinkovsky, ctr-ten; +Ciro Aroni, Teo Aroni, ten; +Alessandro Ravasio, bs; Ensemble Claudiana; Luca Pianca, dir / Pentatone PTC 5186 845
This is, ordinarily, the kind of CD I pass by for review, 1) because I know the instrumental ensemble is going to play with constant straight tone in the strings, which is HISTORICALLY INCORRECT though they continue to do it, and 2) because a countertenor is used in the two duets, and COUNTERTENORS DID NOT EXIST IN MONTEVERDI’S TIME (or in fact, except for a natural countertenor like Henry Purcell or Russell Oberlin, not until the mid-20th century).
But I listened to Anna Lucia Richter sing on YouTube, and she had three qualities that immediately appealed to me: an excellent voice, a bit of natural vibrato, and wonderful interpretive skills allied to crystal-clear diction. So I took a chance, and I’m glad I did.
Richter is the best new singer of old music since Emma Kirkby came up in the late 1970s, but unlike Kirkby her voice does not resemble that of a superannuated boy soprano. Actually, she sounds like a brighter-voiced version of Carole Bogard, the outstanding American soprano who can probably be called the first bona-fide historically-informed singer of early music of her time (the mid-1960s onward).
Even better, and more of a surprise to me, Ensemble Claudiana is one of those very rare early music ensembles who really kick butt. I was more than a little surprised to hear Zefiro torna taken at a blistering tempo since I’m used to the recordings by Nadia Boulanger’s singers and the New York Pro Musica (specifically, countertenor Russell Oberlin and tenor Charles Bressler). You may laugh at me for saying this, but the music goes by so quickly, and Richter’s splendid voice dominates so much, that countertenor Dimitri Sinkovsky didn’t annoy me all that much, in part because he has a full-sounding voice (like Randall K. Wong) and not a “hooty” sound.
But this CD is clearly one of the finest I’ve heard of any of Monteverdi’s music since the recordings by Gabriel Garrido or Reinhard Goebel. The entire CD takes off like a firecracker; even the slow pieces, such as the Lamento d’Arianna, have an underlying drive to them, aided by Richter’s rich and highly expressive voice, that grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. In fact, this performance is even better than the one the late Cathy Berberian recorded with Nikolaus Harnoncourt back in the 1970s, and up until now Berberian was my gold standard in this work. In her liner notes, Richter extols the work of conductor Luca Pianca for his passion and enthusiasm. You bet he is! and how I wish that Richter and Pianca would record Monteverdi’s least-well-served opera, Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria. The Garrido recording is pretty good, but hearing Pianca conduct, I think his would clearly eclipse that one. Pentatone, are you listening?
And who is Anna Lucia Richter? She’s a German soprano, born in Köln in 1990, who studied voice with her mother from age nine before going to conservatories at Basel and Cologne. She has also done some coaching with Edda Moser and Christoph Prégardien (both first-class singers). So she’s still fairly young (29 at the time of recording), had great training, and apparently an inner drive to kick butt in everything she sings.
I paused to consider whether or not I should give detailed descriptions of each track on this stupendous CD, and in the end I decided not to. After all, none of this music is new to lovers of Monteverdi; what is new is the fresh approach that Richter and Pianca take; thus I decided to let the listener acquire the album, put it on, and be as surprised and delighted as I was.
But I will say one thing, and hark my words: the liveliness of the instrumental playing, with its accent on rhythm and great textural clarity, will put you in mind of the New York Pro Musica, an organization which has been derided and scorned for decades. So maybe Noah Greenberg was onto something, whether or not he had access to all of the historic materials that Pianca did…at least, his instincts seem to have been right. Early music should not sound like some dead, dry-as-dust material that only old white people would listen to. This music was written by an Italian composer, one whose letters show a typical Italian temperament, and God knows the Italians can BE passionate in everything they do. And, apparently, so is our young, feisty German soprano.
—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley
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