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To touch to kiss to die
see track listing below review
Valer Barna-Sabadus (alto), Pavel Serbin (cello, viola da gamba), Axel Wolf (lute), Olga Watts (harpsichord)
rec. 12-14 September 2012, Himmelfahrtskirche, Munich-Sendling, Germany. DDD
OEHMS OC 870 [66:57]

Valer Barna-Sabadus was born in Romania and moved to Germany at the age of five. Here he received his musical education, and made his debut when he was 21 years old. Since then he has built up a career in which he concentrates on baroque opera. That is why he saw this project of vocal chamber music by English composers as a challenge. However, in the programme of this disc he doesn't move that far away from opera. The songs he has selected are often quite close to 17th century opera, and in many ways reflect the ideals of speech-like singing as it was propagated by the likes of Giulio Caccini.
It is remarkable that these pieces are performed in a chronologically reversed order. It starts with Purcell, and then moves backwards in the 17th century with Poole, Matteis and Dowland. Although there is a clear difference in style, there are also strong similarities in that pieces with a declamatory character dominate. As far as Purcell is concerned, that is especially the case in Sweeter than roses which is from his theatre music for Pausanias. Other songs, like If music be the food of love and Oh Solitude are also in a free recitativic style. She loves and she confesses too is based on a basso ostinato, a very popular form in 17th-century Italy.
Most songs by Dowland are specimens of the strophic lute song, which is not an exclusively English genre, but more popular there in the decades around 1600 than elsewhere in Europe. The basso continuo had not made its appearance in England yet, and the accompaniment was exclusively for the lute. Even so, in some of his songs Dowland showed that he was very well aware of the latest trends in Italian music. We hear two examples, I saw my lady weep and the famous Flow my tears. These are not directly comparable with Italian monody, but are more declamatory than many of Dowland's songs.
The most interesting part of this disc, as far as the repertoire is concerned, are the songs by Nicola Matteis. He was born in Naples and settled in England around 1670. He was one of the first Italian composers to emigrate to England and would be followed by many after the turn of the century. He was a virtuosic violinist and surprised his audiences with his playing on this instrument, which at that time was relatively new to English audiences. He published four books of violin pieces, but also some collections of songs which are hardly known. These are on English texts, but in a purely Italian style and quite expressive. The specimens on this disc suggest that his songs deserve to be explored. They could well be an interesting alternative to the frequently-performed English repertoire from this period.
With his experience in opera one may expect Barna-Sabadus to make the most of this repertoire. That is exactly what he does. He has a beautiful voice with a pleasantly warm timbre and a remarkably wide range. Some songs include high notes - Matteis's When I Corinna's pity would implore even begins with one - which he sings with notable ease and perfection. One could probably criticize him in that he tends to sing the highest notes always rather loudly. Sometimes they could be sung with less power. Whether that is a technical issue or a matter of interpretation is hard to say. With a more 'open' voice the texts would also be easier to understand. Even so, his delivery is quite good and so is his pronunciation. Barna-Sabadus is probably a bit too restrained in the ornamentation department. In Dowland's Come again I found some of his ornaments rather odd. What is most important, though, is that the emotion which is expressed in the various pieces, is impressively conveyed.
The instrumentalists give excellent support and deliver some nice solo pieces to boot. Axel Wolf gives a good account of Dowland's Lachrimae Pavan, the lute version of Flow my tears. Especially interesting is S. Justinas, a series of divisions for viola da gamba. The most prominent composer of such pieces at the time was Christopher Simpson. This particular piece was composed by Anthony Poole, about whom very little is known. He may be identical with a person of that name who was educated at the English College in Rome in the late 1640s and became a Jesuit in 1658. The title of this piece seems to point in that direction, although its meaning is impossible to explain with any certainty. The fact that his compositions circulated in manuscript, also on the continent, suggests that they were well appreciated. That is understandable, if one listens to this particular piece, which is given an engaging performance by Pavel Serbin. Olga Watts plays a short piece, one of the many transcriptions of songs in Purcell's oeuvre.
The singing by Valer Barna-Sabadus and the playing by the instrumentalists results in a highly compelling recital of gems from 17th-century England.
Johan van Veen

Track Listing
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)

If music be the food of love (3rd version) (Z 379c) [3:44]
She loves and she confesses too (Z 413) [2:31]
The Indian Queen (Z 630):
I attempt from love's sickness [1:37]
Oedipus (Z 583):
Music for a while [3:28]
A New Ground in e minor (Z 339) (harpsichord) [2:13]
Pausanias, The Betrayer of his Country (Z 585):
Sweeter than roses [3:25]
Oh Solitude! My sweetest choice! (Z 406) [6:01]
Anthony POOLE (c1629-1692)
S. Justinas (viola da gamba) [7:56]
Nicola MATTEIS (I) (c1650-1703?)
No, you never loved liked me [1:08]
Come, my dear [1:58]
Is not Celia in our pow'r [1:28]
In vain, Clorinda, you prepare [3:02]
When I Corinna's pity would implore [5:40]
No, my Cloe, let us leave this place [2:12]
John DOWLAND (1563-1626)
Lachrimae Pavan (lute) [5:37]
Come again, sweet love doth now invite [2:35]
I saw my lady weep [5:11]
Flow my tears [4:46]
Say love if ever thou didst find [2:15]