Period instrument ensemble La Donna Musicale and its director Laury Gutierrez have brought many female composers from out of the shadows and onto the stage. Their “All-Around Love” concert on Thursday night came off like a “Greatest Hits” collection just in time for Valentine’s Day. The ambitious program included madrigals, cantatas, songs, arias, instrumentals and sacred pieces from two different musical capitals and ten different composers, spanning more than a century of different styles.
Maddalena Casulana and Vittoria Aleotti’s relatively conservative sixteenth century madrigals were followed by more complex, passionate seventeenth century works by Barbara Strozzi and Camilla de Rossi. The focus shifted from Italy to France after intermission, with Julie Pinel’s short, charming songs juxtaposed against Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre’s energetic Trio Sonata in G minor and Italian Antonia Bembo’s powerful setting of Psalm 50. The unifying theme was love, of every variety from romantic to jealous to sacred, all set to some simply beautiful poetry, with texts by Petrarch and a lyrical French paraphrase of Hebrew scripture.
The performers obviously enjoyed these discoveries, evident from the start with soprano Camila Parias wrapping decorous lines around Daniela Tosic’s resonant mezzo in Strozzi’s madrigal “Godere et Tacere (To Enjoy and Be Silent).” Violinist Laura Gulley beamed through ritornellos in Strozzi’s serenata Hor Che Apollo (I Know That Apollo) and de Rossi’s cantata Dori e Fileno, while Gutierrez strummed her viola da gamba with the warmth of a fireside recital on Pinel’s pastoral “Boccage Frais Aimable Solitude (Refreshing Woods and Sweet Solitude).” Isabella Leonarda’s Sonata Prima featured a spongy blend of violin, gamba and Ruth McKay’s chamber organ and attractive imitations in the Vivace. Gutierrez’s gamba and Janet Haas’ violone played the tenor and bass parts for Maria Xaviera Peruchona’s worshipful “Cessate Tympana (Cease Drums).” An instrument assuming vocal parts was a common and necessary practice in the convents where Peruchona served as a nun. It made for a warm wall of sound, well served by the acoustics in Lindsey Chapel at Emmanuel Church.
The highlight of the evening was the “Miserere Mei (Have Mercy On Me)” from Bembo’s Psalms of David. Bembo disregards harmonic and melodic conventions for the sake of the text, creating a vivid look inside the mind and heart of David as he begs God for forgiveness. Parias’ plaintive sound, firm technique and evocative style exploded the depth and power of the text, with the ensemble building from reflective to imploring alongside her.
Parias also shined in the humorous “Mi Basta Cosi (I’ve Had Enough)” by Bembo and Strozzi’s “La Vendetta (Revenge)” with a flirty upper register over gritty gamba and giggling strings. Tosic’s cool tone suited the close of the Strozzi cantata and Pinel’s “Echos Indiscrets (Indiscreet Echoes).” A joyous excerpt from Mlle. Laurent’s Le Concert closed the concert, featuring the unique sound of two vocalists, two violins and two gambas (with Haas doubling). Love music on Valentine’s Day is fairly intuitive. Yet the immediacy of this performance, not to mention Gutierrez’s copious program notes, her spirited introductions and the performers’ visible interplay, reinforced how much of a labor of love this repertoire is for La Donna Musicale.
Andrew J. Sammut also writes for Early Music America and All About Jazz and blogs on the pop of yestercentury on his blog, Aesthetic, Not Anesthetic. He also plays clarinet and lives in Cambridge.