Born from the "global cataclysm" of CoVID, this disc offers both hope and joy. The collaboration of Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva with Leonardo Garcia Alacón was born after the soprano sang in Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea at Geneva Conservatory (where Alarcón teaches). The disc is a true collaboration - for each of Yoncheva's suggestions for repertoire, Alarcón offered one of his own until a complete programme was born.
The disc begins with music by Stradella, a compmoser we met recently. In fact Yoncheva has chosen an aria from San Giovanni Battista: Salome's aria, "Queste lagrime e sispiri". Although shorn of context, it retains its quietly restrained power:
The track also contains a vital element of the chosen music - its timelessness. It is indeed as if time stands still; and, in another sense, the music speaks as poignantly to the listener today than it did in the 17th century.
We met Cavalli previously on Classical Explorer with his opera Ercole Amante. Wonderful to find him here again, here as Monteverdi's logical operatic successor, in Adelante's lament "Luci mie, voi che miraste" from Xerse, an opera premiered at the Louvre in Paris on the occasion of Louis XIV's wedding in 1660. Yoncheva's warm soprano works beautifully with the dark sadness within Cavalli's music (a sadness prolonged by the very next number, Gibbons' The Silver Swan):
A number of delightful instrumental tracks pepper the disc. Try the infectious instrumental verison of "O rosetta, che rosetta" from Monteverdi's Scherzi musicali as a demonstration of the sheer virtuosity and excellence of Alarcón's ensemble, Cappella Mediterranea:
This is far from only Baroque music, though. A piece by Alarcón himself is here (an aria from El Prometeo), as is Bulgarian folk music ("I told the musicians to close their eyes and to play viscerally," says Yoncheva). A vibrant piece for guitars by Simón Díaz (1928-2014) sits right next to that Bulgarian folk song which seems to stretch out from the mists of time itself:
So wonderful to see some Barbara Strozzi (1619-77) here - her compositions are always born of a moraculous attention to the text coupled with a real profundity. We certainly hear this in "L'Eraclito amoroso" from her Op. 2 Cantate, ariette e duetti, a work of highest beauty:
The idea that the recording was to imply that the musicians were playing "inside a vast lute" enables Yoncheva's voice to be enwrapped within the instrumental sound, a tactic that works generally very well (although interestingly Alarcón's own aria sounds super-saturated). But the sheer power of Alfonso Ferrabosco II's Hear me, O Lord is vindication enough, with Yoncheva's spoken passages utterly remarkable.
And thence to ABBA's Like an Angel as you've never heard it before. It works beautifully, a new purity revelaed, as if stripping away paintwork. Worth noting, too, that Yoncheva's English here (and elsewhere on the disc) is impeccable. Here, to close, is a video of Yoncheva performing this track:
Positing that the silence and inactivity of lockdown were a prelude to creative renewal, this album points the way forward to new spaces: the clear indications of Spring on the disc cover photo point unerringly to the World's post-CoVID "Rebirth".