A renowned English ensemble revives little-known 18th-century chamber music with period charm and elegant phrasing.
When the Allegri Quartet made this recording in 1994, almost no one had encountered even the name let alone the music of Maddalena Lombardini Sirmen. Born in Venice in 1745, she grew up in one of the Venetian ospedali that cared for female orphans, and quickly showed herself to be an outstanding violinist and singer. Her talent was worthy of tuition by Tartini, the greatest virtuoso and violin innovator of his age. In 1767 she married a fellow violinist, Lodovico Sirmen, and the couple embarked the following year on a concert tour of Europe that took them to Paris. Maddalena subsequently visited London, but by 1771 the couple had parted ways and Ludovico had returned to Italy.
She probably composed this set of six quartets while still a resident at the Ospedale dei Mendicanti. They were first published in 1769, perhaps not coincidentally by a woman, Madame Berault, who ran a Parisian firm. The date makes them directly contemporary with Haydn’s Op.9 quartets, which are generally reckoned to mark the birth of the string quartet as a self-sufficient genre. These quartets are more modest in scale than Haydn’s example, all cast in a contrasting pair of movements, slow-quick but Lombardini Sirmen’s mastery of her craft is apparent in both the clarity of the part-writing for strings and the fresh melodic inspiration.
Flashes of humour break through the elegant surface of the music, such as the abrupt modulations in the Allegro of No.2. The Larghetto of No.5 is a fine example of the pathos she brings to the slow movements, and the Allegro of No.6 rounds off the set with a galanterie that bears comparison with Boccherini’s example. ‘Care and attention [is] given to the music by the Allegri… beautifully judged.’ (Gramophone)
- Maddalena Lombardini Sirmen (1745-1818) was a remarkable Italian female composer, singer and violinist. Born in Venice, her life unfolded against the backdrop of a male-dominated musical landscape. Breaking through these gender barriers, Sirmen's prowess as a virtuoso violinist and composer shone brightly. Beyond her compositions, Sirmen's virtuosity as a violinist took her across Europe, performing for royalty and esteemed audiences. Her life's journey embodies resilience and determination as she navigated societal expectations to forge her own path in the world of music.
- Her most enduring contribution to the world of music lies in her six string quartets, which showcase her innovative compositional style and technical mastery. These quartets, composed during the latter half of the 18th century, are characterized by their elegance, lyrical melodies, and a balance of emotions that traverse both joyful and introspective realms. Sirmen's music often reflected her own experiences and emotions, giving it a personal touch. Her quartets display a blend of classical structures with moments of daring exploration, revealing her as a composer unafraid to experiment with harmonies and forms.
- Played by the legendary Allegri String Quartet, a superb and pioneering recording from 1994, rescued by Brilliant Classics from the defunct Cala label.