Arion

Maria, Madre di Dio

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Indefatigable early music specialist and virtuoso Monica Huggett serves as both guest conductor and concertmaster of the Canadian ensemble Arion in this recording of Baroque vocal music in honor of Mary. Huggett's exquisite sense of phrasing and musical drama brings these late Baroque Italian works, three of which are fairly obscure, to throbbing life. Vivaldi's Stabat Mater for alto, strings, and continuo is one of his most popular vocal works, and rightly so; it's graceful, inventive, and melodious. Male alto Matthew White doesn't have the bright, shiny voice that characterizes many countertenors, but his more velvety tone is well suited to this somber subject and Vivaldi's treatment of it. His ornamentation is all the more effective for being applied with discretion and restraint. He's equally effective in Scarlatti's Salva Regina, in which he's joined by soprano Agnès Mellon. Their voices are beautifully matched and their intonation is pure and piercing. Mellon is the soloist in two cantatas, one by Handel, Ah! Che troppo ineguali, and one, Il pianto di Maria "Giunta l'ora fatal," by Giovanni Battista Ferrandini, which had long been wrongly attributed to Handel. Ferrandini's lament, which is largely set as recitative, describes Mary's emotions during the crucifixion, and is particularly anguished. Mellon gives an appropriately wrenching, emotionally transparent performance. The sensitivity and consistently high quality of the singing and ensemble playing make this an album that should be of strong interest to fans of the Baroque.

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