Notes and Editorial Reviews
Who doesn't love a lullaby? As a tribute "to all mothers and children", singer Montserrat Figueras offers this unusual program of 18 such songs from diverse sources and anonymous composers--Portuguese, English, Greek, Catalan, Hebrew, Sephardic, and North African--as well as pieces written by the likes of Byrd, Mussorgsky, Reger, Falla, Milhaud, and Pärt (two lullabies composed for this recording). Accompaniments show the stylish hand and always-tasteful imaginings of Jordi Savall and the instrumentalists of Hesperion XXI--viols, guitar, flutes, psaltery, harp--and, in three tracks, the piano of Paul Badura-Skoda. Although the liner notes prime us to expect very simple, repetitive tunes, Figueras transforms these ostensibly sleep-inducing songs into high, mind-and-ear-engaging art, embellishing, shaping, and imbuing them with deeply felt expression, sometimes wistful and at others fervent, but always delivered as if in intimate, personal touch with her listener(s).
And as diverse as the melodies (and languages) are, so does this repertoire give Figueras a chance to show her own considerable versatility, from the plaintive, chant-like José embala o menino (Portugal) to the extended, highly ornamented 16th century Sephardic ballad Nani, nani. Pärt's Berceuse de Noël (2002) is a gentle, sweetly rocking little song, ideally accompanied by viols, harp, psaltery, and santur; his Estonian cradle song, Kuus, kuus kallike, is as basic as it gets--an extremely simple, repetitive tune with a text of only three "words". For this last song--and for the Catalan lullaby Mareta, mareta no'm faces plorar--Figueras is joined by her daughter Arianna, an appropriate and beautiful match of voices. Mussorgsky's "With the doll" from his The Nursery and Milhaud's "Dors, dors" from his Hebrew songs--both accompanied by Badura-Skoda--are wonderful, rarely heard gems.
There are many other highlights here, and it's interesting to observe how Figueras adapts her voice and interpretive nuance to the different styles and texts. Of course, 77-plus minutes of these songs, all focused on one voice--a voice that to my ears has more edge and less warmth and softness than I'd prefer--can be a lot to take in at one sitting. But the beautiful songs and the first-rate presentation compel multiple listenings anyway, and the clear, detailed sound brings it up close but comfortably so, with natural, well-balanced instrumental timbres complementing the voices.
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com