Alessandro Stradella was a highly influential composer in his day, producing an abundance of masterpieces despite his dissolute and dramatically brief life. Written for the lavish celebrations marking Leopoldo de’ Medici being made a cardinal, La Circe is set near a fountain on the leafy slopes of Parnassus. It evokes the spirit of the sorceress Circe who, while searching for the grave of her son, is dazzled by a bright light – the presence of a Medici. Complete with echo effects and deliciously lyrical and expressive music, La Circe is both a fascinating enigma and a perfect example of aristocratic tastes in Baroque Rome. This double album release contains the unabridged version of La Circe I and the World Premiere Recording of La Circe II, and the booklet provides detailed notes. Played on period instruments.
The recording presents two versions of the story of the sorceress Circe, described as an operetta. The two versions are quite different, which goes far beyond the usual adaptations of compositions to local requirements. The composition has an operatic feel with its virtuosically ornamented arias, frilly and pronounced ornamentations, interwoven duets and effective recitatives. In common formal schemes Stradella creates a great variety of expression, surprising turns as well as delightful shaping of affect.
Estevan Velardi and his original sound ensemble Alessandro Stradella Consort present, in addition to the two versions of Circe, a Sonata di Viole in D major and other samples from the chamber cantata oeuvre of the Italian composer: Soffro, misero, e taccio and the Prologue to La Dori.
Velardi is also responsible for the settings and instrumentation. He keeps his ensemble playing in a lively and tomboyish manner that can easily be imagined in the atmosphere of a feast in an Italian garden. While the cantata Soffro, misero, e taccio and the prologue still sound a bit anemic, the music unfolds its full liveliness in the Circes. At the same time, the ensemble plays very well the complicated gentle melodies and the sometimes bold harmonies for the 17th century.
Singing overall is exquisite. Leslie Visco as Circe is convincing in both cases with individual timbre, agile and focused voice, and fine articulation of the text. The clearly led, if restrained voices of Cristina Farinelli and Anna Chierichetti prove good mediators for the difficult balance between declamation and virtuosity. Tenor Franceso Toma and bass Giuseppe Naviglio provide euphony for the male voices.