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Erotica Antiqua: Neapolitan Villanellas

I did not originally request this disc for review; it came with a yellow post-it note from Len stuck to it saying “try me”, and I am glad he sent it! I have now listened to it about ten times and every time I do I find something else to add to my enjoyment of this disc.

The villanella is form of Italian secular song that originated in Naples in the mid sixteenth century and is not to be confused with the French courtly song, with the Italian version sometimes being more folk-song or rustic-orientated in character. The subject of the villanella however was often satirical, light hearted and even comical, and thus a far cry from the French forms of courtly love song. The villanella was very popular in its day and was a great influence upon the development of the canzonetta and madrigal.

Of the composers represented here, only Orlando di Lasso is well known, although I dare say that Matona Mia Cara might come as a shock to people who only know his religious music. Here the rollicking rhythm and catchy refrain are the complete opposite of what he is known for. The other named composers are, I must admit, new to me, but they show a full range of romantic and exciting music, all of which is more than interesting, and clearly shows the origins of the madrigal.

Often in discs of music like this the singer has a voice that is too big and operatic for the songs, but not here, Letizia Calandra has a clear soprano voice and is able to adapt and colour it to fit the particular requirements of the individual songs. In the second track, the anonymous ‘Boccuccia D'uno Persic' Aperturo’, she is called upon to show her full range, from the slow tender opening of the song to the exciting conclusion, something she does with ease. She is accompanied wonderfully by the Ensemble Arte Musica, who perform on appropriate instruments. The recorded sound is excellent, allowing every nuance of the vocal and instrumental lines to come to the fore. If there is one drawback with this release it is the documentation: the accompanying booklet notes, though brief, are informative, however, the sung texts are only available from Brilliant Classics’ website, the problem being that there are no translations included, something that is essential with repertoire like this. Stuart Sillitoe