Steffani: Duets of love and passion

Amanda Forsythe, Emőke Baráth, Colin Balzer, Christian Immler SSTBar, Boston Early Music Festival Chamber Ensemble, Paul O’Dette, Stephen Stubbs
71:02
cpo 555 135-2

From the very first notes it is clear that everyone involved in this recital means business and knows exactly what they’re doing. BEMF have previously (2011) brought Steffani’s opera Niobe, Regina di Tebe  to life. Now they complement this with a varied exploration of his chamber duets. As the notes observe, these show the influence of both French and Italian composers as a result of the composer’s studies and travels and in their time influenced Handel, who ‘borrowed’ ideas from them for his own compositions in the same genre.

All four singers are most accomplished as soloists and no less skilful in ensemble, however they are paired. Every time I thought I’d heard what would be my favourite track another came along and trumped it, or so I thought until the cycle began again! Questions have to be asked – and the performers ask them – as to whether or not Steffani would have deployed as rich a continuo palette as is heard here. In particular, I wonder if individual cantatas would have had a ‘you play this and I’ll come in here’ approach, but what is done in these performances is beautifully seamless and tasteful.

The notes (Eng/Ger) are informative and extensive and the Italian texts are translated into the same languages. Don’t write off Steffani as another composer who fell into a ‘black hole’ between Monteverdi and Vivaldi. Get this disc and meet your “Composer of the Month”.

David Hansell

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