And now, just in, from Navona Records (www.navonarecods.com), comes Mi Palpita Il Cor, an elegant new release featuring music by Steffani, Sammartini, Handel, Telemann and Rameau.
This Baroque banquet features the members of the west coast group Musica Pacifica, a renowned ensemble specializing in Baroque music. The five members of the group’ play ancient or replicas of old instruments in their work, and the sound they produce is as authentic as you will ever hear.
The ensemble is led by Judith Linsenberg, who plays the soprano, alto and tenor recorders and the rare voice flute, used nowadays as a substitute for the transverse flute. She is a master of all her instruments and an ideal equal partner in all five of the compositions featured in the album
Elizabeth Blumenstock is the group’s fine violinist, playing in this recording a 1660 Guarnieri. Josh Lee plays the viola da gamba with a fullness not usually associated with this delicate instrument. John Leonti doubles with flexibility on guitar and theorbo. Charles Sherman provides solidly continuous support on the continuo with a double manual harpsichord.
The five musicians are, in a word, superb.
Joining Musica Pacifica, the Canadian soprano Dominique Labelle (www.domiquelabelle.com) is impressively featured in three cantatas that provide many of the album’s delights. She is first heard in Guardati, o core, a short cantata by the Italian composer, singer, priest and diplomat Agostino Steffani. Labelle sings it very beautifully, with a sure command of the Italian, paying close attention to the subtleties of the text, a bittersweet commentary on the joys and pains of love.
Like other musicians born in Italy long before the unification of that country, Giuseppe Sammartini had to journey abroad to find fame and fortune in 18th century Europe. Settling in England, Sammartini wrote extensively for his primary instrument, the oboe as well as for other woodwind instruments. In his Sonata in B Minor for two instruments, Sammartini uses a free-wheeling four-movement format replete with dance rhythms. The ensemble’s Judith Linsenberg and Elizabeth Blumenstock use their recorder and violin respectively to bring to life the charming composition.
In Handel’s early solo cantata for alto, Mi palpita il cor, Dominique Labelle dives flawlessly into the vocal hurdles of the piece, singing the pastoral text about the perils of love with a light touch that yet never skims over the surface of the composition, instead mining all along for emotional depth.
Georg Phillip Telemann’s Quartet in G Major offers the ensemble’s members countless opportunities to play to the hilt a little collection of dance pieces in the Galant style of the French High Baroque.
Rameau’s cantata Orphée features soprano Labelle in top form, singing idiomatically Rameau’s music and honoring the emotional intricacies in the French text about the legend of Orpheus.
Unlike so many baroque specialists, Labelle sings with a plumy tone, judiciously using vibrato when it best serves the music but never subjecting the listener to the disembodied tone of other early music specialists. Hers is a beautiful full lyric soprano voice and the results of her approach along with the superb accompaniment by Musica Pacifica are most satisfying.
As customary with Navona Records, the engineering is top-notch and the album’s packaging, accompanied by insightful program notes is first class.
Rafael de Acha