Caresana: Secular Chamber Cantatas

Juliette de Banes Gardonne mezzo-soprano, Ensemble Démesure
Brilliant Classics 95923

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Perhaps it is the effect of ‘lockdown’ or the remarkable number of recent CDs featuring Italian cantatas of the late 17th and early 18th centuries which I have been reviewing, that when I put this one on I had a serious attack of déjà entendu, and had to doublecheck that I hadn’t already reviewed it and put it in the wrong pile. Of course, it isn’t the fault of Caresana or the present performers that I have overdosed on Italian cantatas, and I wasn’t very far into the programme notes and the CD when I realised that this was reasonably distinctive music from a distinctive context. Venetian by birth, Caresana moved to Naples in 1659 and as a protégé of Monteverdi pupil, Francesco Cavalli, was soon at the heart of Neapolitan music-making. This was a crucial period in Naples, before the arrival of Alessandro Scarlatti in 1683 and the subsequent remarkable flourishing of opera there. As a unique survival of the secular cantata just before these dramatic developments, Caresana’s cantatas, of which we have seven recorded here, are after all of considerable interest. Despite my initial reaction, the Ensemble Démesure has done a fine job in selecting seven contrasting pieces, which demonstrate Caresana’s versatility. Mezzo-soprano, Juliette de Banes Gardonne, has a rich, full voice and imbues the music with considerable drama, negotiating its intricacies impressively, although she has an annoying habit of ‘scooping up’ to notes and her intonation in the upper range isn’t always entirely convincing. She is ably supported by her continuo ensemble of harpsichord, theorbo and cello.

D. James Ross

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