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Enchanted Forest
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
La fida ninfa, RV714 - Alma oppressa [4:59]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Giove in Argo - Combattuta da più venti [6:21]
Apollo e Dafne - Felicissima quest’alma [5:40]
Come in ciel benigna stella [3:33]
Rinaldo - Furie terribili! [1:49]
Alcina - Tornami a vagheggiar [4:42]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
The Fairy Queen - Hornpipe in d minor [1:02]
Ode for St Cecilia’s Day, ‘Raise, raise the voice’, Z334 - Mark how readily each pliant string* [3:41]
Timon of Athens, Z632 - Curtain Tune [2:39]
Hornpipe in g minor [1:00]
O let me weep (The Plaint) [7:45]
See, even Night herself is here [4:50]
Calisto - Restino imbalsamate [3:44]
Gli amori d’Apollo e di Dafne - O più d’ogni ricchezza (including a Ciaccona by Janthan Cohen and Thomas Dunford [10:39]
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643) Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi Libro VIII: Lamento della ninfa** [7:52]
Anna Prohaska (soprano) with Samuel Boden*/**, Thomas Walker** (tenor), Ashley Riches*/** (bass)
Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen
rec. Hackney Church, London, April 2012 and All Hallows’ Church, London, September 2012. DDD.
Booklet with texts and translations included
ARCHIV PRODUKTION 479 0077 [70:17]

The linking theme for this recording is the archetypal enchanted forest, a speciality of the renaissance epics of Boiardo, Tasso and Ariosto which inspired Spenser’s Faerie Queene and which baroque composers copiously mined for their operas. The other influence, actually more important for these pieces, despite the title, is Ovid’s Metamorphoses, especially the legend of Daphne, pursued with amorous intention and against her will by Apollo, on whose plight the gods took pity and transformed her into a laurel tree.
I suppose we had to have multiple photographs of Anna Prohaska on the cover and inside the booklet, swooning in the act of transformation to make the CD look more appealing, though the days when one could browse in a record store and be attracted by the cover are, for most of us, long gone. One can imagine a smaller, more specialised label using Pollaiulo’s Apollo and Daphne in which the god tries to seize the nymph in the very act of her transformation. Or, on a related theme, Botticelli’s La Primavera on the cover; the nymph Chloris appears there twice, first being pursued by Zephyrus and then metamorphosed into the embodiment of Spring.
So DG have gone for popular appeal to sell what is essentially a recording for a niche market, but it’s what’s on the recording that matters and here the first thing that I noticed was that whoever chose the programme wisely decided to eschew the obvious - even the excerpts from Handel’s Alcina and Rinaldo are not the usual suspects. His pastiche opera Giove in Argo, from which track 2 is taken,has only recently received its first recording from Il Complesso Barocco on Virgin - review forthcoming. The only item that receives regular airings - and that usually in a complete Monteverdi programme - is the closing Lamento della Ninfa.
Though this is not by any means Anna Prohaska’s first venture into the baroque repertoire, her previous outings on record include Berg’s Lulu Suite, about as far removed from the music here as one could imagine, though I suppose that her appearance as a dryad in Rusalka (Orfeo) was a sort of preparation for the nymphery here. John Quinn praised her vocal powers in Berg, though admitting to a failure to connect with the music to which I must also plead guilty.
Closer to the repertoire on the new CD, José M Iruzun thought her unsuited to the role of Poppea in a production of Handel’s Agrippina - review - but again praised her voice. I find myself in a similar position: there’s no doubting the beautiful quality of the singing and the high quality of the accompaniment, but there’s sometimes too little sense of differentiation among the different roles, just an all-purpose baroque sound which becomes a little tiring after a while. I don’t wish to make it a major issue, however; the singing is as enchanting as the CD’s title suggest.
It helps that Prohaska essays some convincing ornamentation and that she is joined by Samuel Boden and Ashley Riches in Mark how readily each pliant string (track 4) and by the same two singers plus Thomas Walker in the final Lamento della ninfa (track 15) but there’s a large expanse of just soprano plus accompaniment inbetween. Since Prohaska professes in the booklet notes to love ensemble singing, it’s a shame that there isn’t more of it here, though it’s mainly the male voices in Lamento that let the side down slightly by being a shade less intense than would have been ideal.
It was wise to end with the Lamento della ninfa; it’s the most dramatic piece here and it receives a very good dramatic performance. I wouldn’t, however, prefer it to the wonderful performance by Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini (Naïve/Opus111), available on a single CD, Lamento della Ninfa and other Madrigals from Book 8 (OP30465) or on a 3-CD set (OP30435: Recording of the Month - review). MDT and ArkivMusic still list this on CD and Amazon.co.uk are re-stocking in late June 2013, but it’s out of stock from some other dealers and may be in short supply; if you can’t find it, it’s available in mp3 or lossless flac from eclassical.com or from classicsonline.com in mp3 only.
The lament was a form which Monteverdi made all his own and, while the quality of this Lamento is clear from the new recording, you need to turn to Alessandrini’s team for its full power without in any way forcing or over-emphasising the music. That’s judging the new recording by the highest standards, however; taken in context, I don’t think that listeners will be disappointed.
While Prohaska and her team run Alessandrini a close second, they offer a mystery bonus at the end. After the Lamento, which takes just over six minutes, there’s an unidentified short madrigal in which Prohaska seems to be duetting with herself. I can’t identify it because the words are not in the booklet and clarity of diction is not one of the strong points of this recording; my guess would be Thomas Morley. Indeed, it may well have been included on my review copy by mistake; I see that Amazon and others give a time of 6:08 for the final track and an overall timing of 68:32, which suggests that the ‘bonus’ has been omitted. It’s a shame - I rather liked it. The font used on the cover of the finished product is also different from that on my review copy.
I’ve mentioned diction as not being of the clearest but it’s only a problem in Purcell’s Mark how each plaint. It’s not that Prohaska’s English pronunciation is a problem - I understand that one of her parents is English - but after a very clearly enunciated Mark, mark, how readily, she tends to run the syllables together here. It’s partly Purcell’s librettist’s fault for not considering the singer, but the soprano on a Naxos recording conducted by Robin Glenton (8.553444), though her voice is no match for Prohaska’s, manages it without problem, not to mention the King’s Consort on the Hyperion Complete Odes (CDS44031/8 - review and review).
For all my minor reservations - and they don’t seem to have troubled the two other reviewers whose take on this recording came my way just as I was closing my write-up - this CD presents an enjoyable programme of mostly lesser-known baroque arias, very attractively sung and well accompanied. The recording is good - one of the venues a little more reverberant than the other - and if the notes in the booklet are a little fanciful at times, they are also informative. Now I’m tempted to go for her earlier, more varied recital Sirène - with Eric Schneider, piano, music from Dowland to Mahler and points between, 477 9463.
Brian Wilson