L’ARPEGGIATA Via Crucis
L’Arpeggiata / Christina Pluhar.
Virgin Classics 694 5770
The crossover disc is nothing new, but rarely do you get a recording that straddles the boundaries in such a way as Via Crucis, L’Arpeggiata’s new release, directed by Christina Pluhar. It has one foot in both the classical and the folk camps, there’s more than a touch of ambiguity between the sacred and secular, and a distinct blurring between the written down and the improvised.
If there is variety in style and substance then there is also variety in sound. L’Arpeggiata performs imaginatively and as an enjoyably cohesive unit. Soprano Nuria Rial is on cracking form: full-toned, sensuous and bewitching. Countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, who seems to be everywhere at the moment, is also on song, his approach admirably malleable from the almost naïve in the simple Ninna nanna alla Napoletana to a more strident tone in Ferrari’s Queste pungente spine. Together – in a beautiful arrangement of Legrenzi’s Lumi, potete piangere – they complement and contrast each other deliciously.
But the real deal-clincher is the splendid Corsican quartet Barbara Furtuna. Much like a good slosh of Corsican red wine, this all-male group adds a robust, earthy, full-bloodied contribution to the main courses on this disc. Rising up from the rather more polite offerings of L’Arpeggiata, the quartet’s performance is really what gives the programme its Mediterranean flavour. At times, it also saves the recording from descending into ground-bass oblivion, which can be a problem with releases of this nature. Pluhar avoids it – just.
The music, both traditional and composed mainly by Italian composers such as Merulo, Sances, Monteverdi and Allegri (with a bit of Biber thrown in for good measure), follows the Passion story follows the Passion story (the “way of the cross” of the title). Particularly noteworthy are Sances’ Stabat Mater and a hypnotic arrangement of Merula’s Hor ch’è tempo di dormire in which the Virgin Mary sings a lullaby to her child while she weeps over his future suffering. A sinister repeated phrase opens the work, and is beautifully developed by the instrumentalists and Rial.
The Lamentu di Ghjesu stands two-thirds of the way through the disc, but is at the heart of the programme: based on La Follia, Barbara Furtuna and L’Arpeggiata combine in an effectively troubling performance. A decidedly free and easy arrangement of Monteverdi’s Laudate Dominum, and a number of fizzing chaconnes and dances by Cazzati/Mealli, Merula and Allegri lighten the tone towards the end, before the final number (disconcertingly closely miked) brings us back to the real world with a strikingly modern sound.