Medieval mystery plays, eclectic popular entertainments put together by amateurs for audiences of their peers, originated in England and France and continued to be performed throughout Europe for many centuries. Christina Pluhar organized the program of this album around the idea of a mystery play whose topic is Christ's passion and resurrection, as it might have been performed in 17th century southern Italy. Its subtitle, "Rappresentazione della gloriosa Passione di Cristo," comes from a Roman play of 1672. Here, as is the case with many of Pluhar's albums with L'Arpeggiata, the operative words are "eclectic" and "entertainment." She and her ensemble are solidly grounded in principles of period performance practice, but she never loses sight of the fact that the music she performs was created with the express intent of entertaining audiences, and she throws her considerable creativity into making music that, while remaining true to the spirit of its time, is meant to delight and move listeners. Her approach may not find universal favor; her album of Monteverdi love songs, Teatro d'Amore, includes unabashed jazz interpretations of several madrigals, but her results are so engaging that even skeptics may be won over. The same dynamic is evident here. In addition to exquisite performances of Baroque instrumental pieces, and solos and duets sung by male soprano Philippe Jaroussky and soprano Núria Rial, she includes songs by the earthy (male) Corsican vocal quartet Barbara Furtuna that don't fit the usual conception of early Baroque music, but that are part of a folk tradition that stretches back hundreds of years. What all the performances have in common are immaculate musicianship, acute intelligence and sensitivity in the realization of the scores, and an irrepressible spontaneity and vitality. The sound is clean and warmly present. This is the kind of album that could be given to music lovers who are no fans of early music, with the reasonable expectation that they could come away with a heightened appreciation of the repertoire and of the power of the right performers to bring it fully to life. Highly recommended.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins