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'So sweet is the pain': Roberta Invernizzi at Wigmore Hall

In this BBC Radio 3 lunchtime concert at the Wigmore Hall, soprano Roberta Invernizzi presented Italian songs from the first half of seventeenth-century, exploring love and loyalty, loss and lies, and demonstrating consummate declamatory mastery.

Roberta Invernizzi, at Wigmore Hall (BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert)

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Roberta Invernizzi

Photo credit: Davide Capelli

 

Invernizzi and her instrumental partners - lutenists Craig Marchitelli and Franco Pavan, and viola da gamba player Rodney Prada - began with two solo madrigals by Caccini. It took a little time for the musicians to settle, the sparse lute textures of the opening of ‘Dolcissimo sospiro’ (Most gentle sigh) providing only the mildest anchor for the voice, while the piquant chromaticism freed the vocal line still further. But, Invernizzi did not compromise the purity of her tone, floating dreamily. The entry of the viola da gamba underpinned the tangibility of the ‘sweet pain’ and drama accrued at the close, with a sudden injection of fleetness at the protagonist’s self-chastisement for futilely addressing a rambling sigh that would surely fly off to another’s heart - ‘Ad un sospiro errante/ Che forse vola in sen ad altro amante’.

All the qualities that would make this such an enthralling recital were present in this song. Invernizzi contrasted a ‘clean’, sincere sound, employing little vibrato, with richer colours, rippling through a musical or textual gesture to indicate a surge of anger or pain. Dynamic contrasts were similarly emotive and enhanced by vocal exclamations. Ornamentation was restrained, ensuring the listener’s engagement with the text, but the decoration of sustained notes was beautiful, and complemented by virtuosic diminutions and gestural flourishes in the accompanying parts. Most notable, though, was Invernizzi’s phrasing. She was responsive to the harmonic insinuations, bringing musical phrase, text and chromatic nuance together in a flexible line, often ‘bending’ the pitch towards a particular note or syllable and so blending the pain and pleasure which are the essence of these songs.

Caccini’s strophic dance ‘Dalla porta d’Oriente’ (From the gateway to the East) tripped along freely, until an affective rallentando at the close conveyed the suffering of the dawn sky, whose colorific splendour is paled by the fire of rubies that burns in two lovers’ hearts, an extravagant lute flourish sharpening the bitter tears which infuse the ‘roseo manto’ (rosy mantle).

It was good to hear some rarer songs too. Tarquinio Merula’s ‘Folle è ben che si crede’ (He is indeed mad, the man who believes’ was a droll protestation of fidelity, the final repetition of the stanzas’ indifferent refrain - ‘Dica chi vuole,/ dica chi sa’ (Let them speak who want to,/ let them speak who know’ - thrown away with an insouciant wry shrug. Luigi Rossi’s ‘La bella più bella’ (The most wondrous beauty) sparkled with the flightiness of the woman who vanishes abruptly from a sleeper’s dream, before the wriggling vocal line revealed his self-indulgent revelling in the piercing pains of love. The winding vocal line of Sigismondo d’India’s ‘Intenerite voi, lagrime mie’ (Move to pity, my tears) fired chromatic darts of pain, twisting and burning; the composer’s ‘Crud’Amarilli’ (Cruel Amarilli) was more pensive, submitting in crushed resignation in the final two lines, ‘Poi che col dir t’offendo,/ I’ mi morrò tacendo’ (and by saying this I offend you,/to my death silent will I go’).

The music of Monteverdi was the heart of the recital. ‘Ecco di dolci raggi il sol armato’ (See the sun armed with gentle rays) was a drama of fire and ice, the arioso fluid and seemingly spontaneous. A lovely bloom was followed by the soft diminishment of the voice at the close of ‘Si dolce è’l tormento’ (So sweet is the pain) to convey first the ardent lover’s unrequited passion, then his bitter resignation: ‘Ben fi ache dolente/Pentita e languente/Sospirami un dì’ (let her one day, repentant and languishing, suffer and yearn for me) ‘Disprezzata regina’ from L’incorozanione di Poppea was gripping, as Invernizzi communicated all the theatre of the rejected Ottavia’s emotional rollercoaster, in which, vulnerable and confused, she grieves for lost love (‘Dove, ohimè, dover sei’; hurls her anger at her evil deserter, ‘empio Nerone’; and imagines her tears reflecting her husband’s sensuous delights mingled with her own distress, the slippery chromatic line culminating in a delicious slow trill.

Woven between the vocal items were instrumental toccatas and passacaglias. In a passacaglia by Giovanni Kapsberger, the contrasting musical characters of the two lutenists made for an engaging duet discourse, as Marchitelli, more extrovert, leaned over his chitarrone towards Pavan, as the initial mood of gentle intimation and mystery became invigored with stronger animation and definition. Kaspberger’s Toccata Arpeggiata (from Libro I d’intavolatura di chitarrone) was rhythmically playful and impulsive, retreating to a whispered pianissimo and then, just when the threads of sound seemed about to disappear, propulsively swelling once more. Rodney Prada roved across the full range of his viola da gamba in Orazio Bassani’s Tocatta per B Quadro, producing a full, juicy bass tone, while in a Canzone by Giralomo Frescobaldi an engaging discourse ensued between the sweet, decorative melody of the viola da gamba and the vigorously brushed chords of the lutenists.

Invernizzi returned to Caccini at the close, offering one of the best-known madrigals of the period, the composer’s ‘Amarilli, mia bella’, as her encore. Once again, one marvelled at her declamatory technique and style, which gave such life to the fictional poet-singer that one could believe he was indeed present in Wigmore Hall.

Claire Seymour

Roberta Invernizzi (soprano), Rodney Prada (viola da gamba), Craig Marchitelli (lute), Franco Pavan (lute)

Caccini - ‘Dolcissimo sospiro’, ‘Dalla porta d’oriente’; Kapsberger - Passacaglia; Monteverdi - ‘Ecco di dolci raggi il sol armato’, ‘Disprezzata Regina’ (from L’incoronazione di Poppea); Bassani - Toccata per B Quadro; Frescobaldi - Canzone a basso solo; Merula - ‘Folle è ben che si crede’; Rossi - ‘La bella più bella’; Kapsberger - Toccata Arpeggiata from Libro I d’intavolatura di chitarrone; d’India - ‘Intenerite voi, lagrime mie’, ‘Cruda Amarilli’; Monteverdi - ‘Sí dolce è’l tormento’, ‘Voglio di vita uscir’.

Wigmore Hall, London; Monday 19th November 2018.

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