Somm's Giulio Caccini and His Circle, featuring the English period vocal ensemble La Nuova Musica led by countertenor David Bates, is scrupulously researched, has well written notes (though in a very small typeface), and observes a solid premise behind investigating the "new music" current in Venice in the early decades of the 1600s, the flashpoint of the Baroque. One might argue about the inclusion of lutenist Giovanni Kapsberger in the mix, as he is often thought of as belonging to a somewhat later time than this is supposed to represent, not to mention being based in Rome, as was Peter Philips. Nevertheless, the Kapsberger Toccata included here does not disturb to the flow of the program and, conversely, adds to it. Although the continuo is minimal indeed -- one longs for a bass viol to enter the building -- all of the accompaniments are well played and within the parlance of what we know about continuo accompaniment in this very early time. All of the foregoing elements with Somm's Giulio Caccini and His Circle are spot on.
The problem here is with the singers, and there are six of them; they are the stars of the show. As an ensemble, they sound terrific; something about them all singing together brings everyone up to the same level of proficiency, and they sound especially strong in Ineffable Ardore, the only surviving bit of Caccini's early opera Il Rapimento di Cefalo. However, that piece by itself accounts for only one minute of the 70-minute program, and apart from instrumental interludes, the program is dominated by solo turns by each of the six singers. No one in the ensemble has a strong grasp of stile concitato, the stammering, single-note type of ornamentation endemic to early Baroque vocal music, used by Caccini more than any other composer. There is some measure of approximate concitato employed that is passable, but no more than that. The weakest link, moreover, is the countertenor, who has some serious problems both in executing some of the maddeningly hard music for the voice here and in staying on pitch. This, one has to presume, is the group's leader David Bates.
One must bear in mind that this is some of the most difficult vocal music written this side of Antonio Vivaldi and what La Nuova Musica takes on by its very nature is a hefty plate indeed. Recordings of such material, likewise, are hardly thick on the ground and just by virtue of what it is and that it does not fail altogether, one must count Caccini and his circle among the contenders. But it's more like a weak middleweight bout rather than one populated by champs; the singing is so uneven from artist to artist that it requires a lot of patience and fortitude; whether or not one is up for it may depend on how much one is willing to withstand.