“Baroque Duets” a new CD release, has a lot to say for itself. First and foremost, it is a superb compilation of Baroque vocal music, eminently listenable but away from the beaten track; it is also a historically informed and technically well executed performance by singers and instrumentalists on period instruments; it even contains a world premiere recording. Possibly its most remarkable feature is that it is a declaration of intent by a potential new force, the fledgling recording company Vexations 840 for which this is an inaugural recording project.
The CD features mezzo soprano Fiona Campbell and counter-tenor David Walker performing duets by Handel, Cavalli, Monteverdi and Steffani. Neal Peres Da Costa directs the instrumental ensemble Ironwood from the keyboard..
In a rare opportunity to hear a recorded collaboration between a mezzo soprano and a counter – tenor, the opening bracket of duets is from Cavalli’s “L’Ormindo” harks back to when the two singers shared the stage in Pinchgut Opera’s recent production.
Pleasing to then hear ”Volate momenti” (featured track) a fugal romp by Handel’s little known mentor Agostino Steffani from his opera “La liberta contenta”. Christopher Hogwood quotes Handel’s own description of Steffani: “he received me with great kindness and ..intoduce(d) me to the princess Sophia and the elector’s son…I was what he was pleased to call a virtuoso in music; he obliged me with instructions for my conduct and behaviour…and left me in possession of that favour and patronage which himself had enjoyed for a series of years”.
Also amongst the tracks, Handel’s “Verdi Prat”(Alcina),, “Son nata a lagrima”(Giulio Ceasre in Egitto), duets from Susanna, Theodora, Alexander Balus, and the eternally sublime “Pur ti miro” from Monteverdi’s “L’incoronazione di Poppea”.
A three movement duet catalogue numbered HWV 182b is a world first recording. Originally written for tenor and soprano, decades later Handel transcribed it for two altos and it is this version that Campbell and Walker have recorded.
The voices are evenly matched and the ensemble is sensitive. This is a pioneering recording on many fronts.