The Catacoustic Consort

The Italian Dramatic Lament

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It's hard to say what the name "Catacoustic Consort" is supposed to mean, but this, the group's debut disc, holds lots of promise. These "Italian Dramatic Laments" are soprano solos, accompanied by continuo group of theorbo, viola da gamba, and Baroque harp. Leading off the disc is the Lamento d'Arianna of Monteverdi, the only surviving section of a lost opera, and the other vocal selections are in the passionate, rhythmically free, semi-improvised language of the earliest operas. Soprano Catherine Webster does not rip into early Baroque ornamentation with the muscularity of some of her contemporaries, but her singing is expressive in a quiet, graceful way. She has a very nice way of bringing out the unearthly chromatic passages in Uccidimi dolore (track 12) by one of the creators of opera, Jacopo Peri. The other opera pioneer, Giulio Caccini, is represented by several works here as well. There are also some instrumental pieces by Giovanni Kapsberger that are a little inappropriate chronologically but break up the vocal pieces with a magical effect. Although there are other choices for this repertory (Emma Kirkby is a good one of this basic vocal type), it's encouraging to see a major new American group emerge in the field. Problems exist in areas external to the efforts of the performers on the disc. The sound environment of the suburban Toronto church where the disc was recorded is all wrong for this music, which is as secular as can be; it needs to sound up close and personal, not distant and spacious. The liner notes seem not to have been written for this particular project; they discuss the composers in general terms but do not address specific pieces, and they devote a good deal of space to the female singer-composer Barbara Strozzi, who would indeed have fit well on this program but who is not included. Which makes it even more of a shame that no texts are included. Those who want to go to a computer and struggle with the hated .pdf format can print them out, but with three booklet pages devoted to very dull individual performer biographies and one more to a photo of one individual (not even the whole group), one questions why the texts, which are critical to the music, weren't deemed more important.

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