I Diletti di Mazzarino (At the Pleasure of Mazarin)
Jessica Gould (soprano), Ensemble L’Aura Soave Cremona
rec. 2017, Pieve di San Lorenzo Mondinari – Cela Dati, Cremona, Italy
MV CREMONA MVC/018-043 [64:17]

Cardinal Mazarin did not go down in history as one of the good guys. How much menace is there in this, soprano Jessica Gould’s latest album with Ensemble L’Aura Soave? It’s more about intrigue – and revelry in some seriously sparkling musicianship. Gould is not only a talented singer: she’s also one of New York’s great impresarios, and the driving force behind the innovative and popular Salon/Sanctuary concert series, whose programming spans from the medieval era to world music of the 20th century. Gould’s elegantly written and erudite program notes attest to the series’ mission – to view history through the prism of music – and what delectable music and history are on the table in this recording!

Considering that Gould was a major force in springboarding the revival of the work of the brilliant Italian-Jewish baroque composer Salomone Rossi, the Mazarin theme seems on the surface to be an unlikely choice. Certainly, Mazarin was a patron of the arts and drew deeply from his own heritage to bring Italian culture to France. Then again, Hermann Goering was a connoisseur of visual art (as any Jewish family who’ve been able to reclaim plundered Holocaust heirlooms will confirm). And Lee Atwater – George Bush’s race-baiting manager during the 1992 presidential campaign – fancied himself an ambassador for the blues.

So, it turns out to be no surprise that the selections on the album mirror both the artists that Mazarin championed as well as the controversial cardinal and statesman himself. If only he could have stuck to putting on shows, you might think. The opening number, Gelosia by Luigi Rossi, features Gould delivering spiraling and shivering intensity around an elegantly propulsive baroque backdrop supplied by chitarrone player Diego Cantalupi and harpsichordist Davide Pozzi. Gould’s voice is very distinctive, with a starkly cutting edge: she is clearly here to leave a mark rather than to trill off in any kind of generically balmy way.

Violinists Diego Castelli and Dario Palmisano pulse in with an almost otherworldly swoop in a hauntingly waltzing passage from Pietro Francesco Cavalli’s Calisto, Gould echoing that magic with Restino Imbalsamate, her achingly incisive aria afterward. The rest of the album’s nineteen tracks comprise an eclectic mix. There’s a lilting folk dance along with more stately themes by Giovanni Battista Lulli (birth name of the Florentine-turned-Parisian Jean Baptiste Lully); Gould’s dexterous take of Sdegno, campion audace, a rapid-fire Virgilio Mazocchi miniature; the bravura final movement from Giacomo Carissimi’s Apritevi Inferni glistening with melismatic sparkle; and considerable material from Rossi’s 1647 opera Orfeo.

Counter-Reformation conspiracies, hubris and tragedy sit side by side with a dynamically shifting sweep and Gould’s electrifying voice. The production quality, rich with natural reverb, amplifies this talented ensemble beyond the sum of its parts. The operative question is where can a person hear this online? Salon/Sanctuary’s youtube channel is as good a place to start the search as any, as is www.mazzarinomusica.org, where the recording will be available for purchase until it goes into international distribution in 2019 through Naxos and Stradivarius.

Alan Young

Luigi ROSSI (1597 – 1653)
Gelosia [4:56]
Francesco CAVALLI (1602 – 1676)
Sinfonia (Calisto) [2:19]
Restino imbalsamate (Calisto) [4:15]
Giovanni Battista LULLI (1632 – 1687)
Sinfonia I (for Cavalli’s Xerse) [:57]
Ballo (for Cavalli’s Xerse) [1:13]
Virgilio MAZZOCCHI (1597 – 1646)
Sdegno, campion audace [2:40]
Giovanni Battista LULLI
Sinfonia II (for Cavalli’s Xerse) [2:16]
Ouverture (Orfeo) [3:32]
Lasciate Averno (Orfeo) [6:14]
Sinfonia (Orfeo) [1:48]
Balletto (Orfeo) [:55]
È bello l’ardire [5:11])
Passacagli (Orfeo) [1:00]
Passacaille del Sig. re Louigi [2:00]
Giacomo CARISSIMI (1605 – 1674)
Apritevi inferni [7:50]
Ritornello (Orfeo) [1:12]
Les pleurs d’Orphée ayant perdu a sa femme (Orfeo) [1:54]
M’uccidete begl’occhi [3:05]
Giovanni Battista LULLI
Sinfonia III (for Cavalli’s Xerse) [1:19]