Just finished listening to that CD of baroque laments by Haïm and company. It’s a series of little pieces for solo voice and chamber accompaniment, with one or two ensembles, performed by a variety of singers with Le Concert d’Astrée It begins and ends with Rolando Villazón, which strikes me as unfair, since if someone is going to get two solo turns, I’d rather it be Jaroussky, or DiDonato, or Lemieux or Gens or Lehtipuu. I have no quarrel in any deep way with Rolando Villazón. I am merely pointing out that even within the constraints of this particular recording there are other options.
I found it hard to get into this recording. Some bits of it are odd. In the second selection, a Monteverdi madrigal, Natalie Dessay lays into the lament of a nymph with more scenery-chewing drama than I’m used to with madrigals. Since her part comes in after a rather ecclesiastical-sounding blend of male voices, her interpretation just sounds ever so slightly weird. (You know how sometimes Patricia Petibon will perform baroque music with all kinds of squeals and heavy breathing and giggles and it’s not bad, in fact it’s often very good, but it’s also slightly bizarre and you’re kind of glad you aren’t actually in the room since it might be awkward? It was a bit like that, except far, far less so.) When I listened to it the second time the effect seemed less pronounced, and the third time I hardly noticed.
And there’s nothing wrong with the thing as a whole in a general kind of way. I don’t normally get super psyched up over Monteverdi, but Joyce DiDonato at least makes it interesting. Or at least, I like the sound of her voice enough that my sustained attention is pretty much guaranteed, and the lute playing was pretty. Veronique Gens brings her characteristic elegance and just the right amount of drama to Monteverdi’s “Arianna” lament, and I was certainly paying attention during Marie-Nicole Lemieux’s performance of Cavalli’s “alle ruin del mio regno”. However. Blame it on whoever or whatever you like, but with some exceptions (Henry Purcell, for example; I have occasionally also been known to have the odd Stradella moment) I have trouble getting supremely exercised about large stretches of early baroque opera. All my favorite baroque stuff seems to be written after 1700 or so. It’s not that I dislike earlier material; I just find that I tend to listen to it with less enthusiasm. De gustibus non disputandum, I guess. (And, for the sake of thoroughness, I was not what you would call bowled over by Carissimi’s “Lamento di Maria Stuarda,” performed by Patricia Ciofi.)
Off topic, but on looking at the Wikipedia page for Stradella just now, I notice that his music is said to have been “exploited” by Handel in the following century. Possibly this is because I have spent the past week talking to undergraduates about factories and the ‘market revolution’ of the early 1800s but the sentence sounds as if Handel was making Stradella’s music operate dangerous and noisy water-driven machinery for twelve hours a day or something like that.
Also, after discussion last week of “Haïm hair” I was moved to investigate what that actually was, since I would love it if Maestra Haïm and her occasionally wild tresses had become a pop culture reference, but unfortunately not. Apparently there is a band named Haim and they all iron their hair flat.