Independent on Sunday, 11 August 2002
After the sharp religious ecstasy of Cozzolani's convent motets, Musica Secreta have turned to the madrigals of de Rore, Luzzaschi and de Wert, giving them, as ever, a feminine twist. Through judicious transposition, these erotic madrigals for mixed voices become densely entwined duets, trios and quartets for the female voice, suspended over a soft mattress of plucked and bowed continuo. Dangerous? No. But very seductive, whether in concert Dolci sospiri ardenti or alone Il dolce sonno. Were Botticelli's Primavera to burst into song, she would probably sound like this.
New Zealand Herald, 26
On track: Secret music and musical snapshots
The dangerous graces on Musica Secreta's new CD, Dangerous Graces, are amazing. Here is an album that might seem dauntingly obscure, featuring a specialist Early Music group who perform works created by women composers and performers in the late 16th century.
All in all, a project with the potential to be as dry as parchment, but there's no shortage of passion here. Deborah Roberts and her colleagues, assisted by some male instrumentalists and an obliging bass, have workshopped the music to render it more song-like and lyrical. Instead of having to cope with dense, learned five-part counterpoint, we are given just one or a few lines, floating above a filigree of harp, lute and viol.
The most extensive track is a spine-tingling, 10-minute cantata, "Qual musico gentil" by Giaches de Wert, featuring Emily Van Evera, the American soprano who recently was a spellbinding Dido for Andrew Parrott and the Taverner Consort. Most of the tracks are less ambitious, such as Luzzaschi's Deh non cantar, which Catherine King and Mary Nichols transform into an almost unbearably poignant duet.
The women's voices lull and swell with effortless grace as they explore the soulful and yearning images of these madrigals: "There is not a dense enough veil," they sing, "even if mountains were imposed on mountains, that could make hidden and distant those lovely eyes."
And, take my word for it, this recording will inspire the same sense of devotion in anyone who listens to even one track.
The Scotsman, July 2002
Musica Secreta is striking a blow for 16th century feminism. Professional singing was not the sole domain of men and boys, say the female vocal group. They set out to prove it with Dangerous Graces, a disc of music written by Cipriano de Rore and his pupils for a group of Renaissance divas. This included such refreshing madrigals as Luzzasco Luzzaschi's heart-tugging Dolci sospiri ardenti and de Rore's own extended Amor se cosė dolce. Once the ear adjusts to these high register confections, the result is deeply satisfying.
HMV Choice, July 2002
Musica Secreta are a group of authentic early music performers charged with recreating the unique sound made by the all-female 'concerto di donne' who performed at the court of the Duke Alfonso Il d'Este at Ferrara and Parma in the 16th century. It seems that the Duke was particularly partial to the female voice and scoured the region for virtuosi singers and musicians to entertain his guests for up to six hours a night. The performances resembled an early form of cabaret with the ladies putting on a mutual display of accomplishment while the guests played cards, ate, drank and indulged in noisy conversation.
Dangerous Graces draws on the ensembles' core repertoire; the madrigals of Flemish composer Cipriano de Rore and his pupils in which the poetic text is declaimed with florid vocal ornamentation to a sparse chordal accompaniment. For this recording the core septet are joined by soprano Emily van Evera, bass singer Richard Wistreich and viol player Mark Levy who make it clear from the first note that this is more than an arid academic exercise. A most aristocratic entertainment.
amazon.co.uk, July 2002
Musica Secreta, with guest soprano Emily van Evera, continues its rediscovery of early-music repertoire for female ensemble, Dangerous Graces being the first of two albums developed from the Southampton University project "Female musicians at the courts of Ferrara and Parma, 1565-1589".
The music, by Cipriano de Rore and his pupils Luzzasco Luzzaschi and Giaches de Wert, was originally performed by a once-celebrated ensemble of virtuoso women musicians at the court of Duke Alfonso II d'Este. The women freely adapted their repertoire, transposing vocal parts or transferring them to instrumental lines, and adding their own elaborate ornamentations. Musica Secreta have sought to recreate the sound and spirit of this late-Renaissance ensemble with the musicians arranging their own parts, developing continuo lines during rehearsal and giving free reign to improvisation.
The result is a refreshing sound in the sometimes sexless world of early music, from Catherine King's sombre lament O Sonno, o della queta humida ombrosa to the sensual ensemble Tirsi morir volea, in which lovers die "a death so sweet and delightful, that they returned to life to die again". Though the church acoustic does not reflect the original secular performances, which were at time closer to modern cabaret, this is a unique collection restoring with seriousness and integrity a forgotten part of female musical history.
Gary S Dalkin
hmv.co.uk, July 2002
The first of two discs exploring the madrigals of composers associated with the Italian courts of Parma and Ferrara. The works of De Rore, De Wert and Luzzaschi are all called into service here by the critically acclaimed Musica Secreta using the original 16th/17th century grouping of female voices, one bass voice, harpsichord, lute, viol and harp. The result is a splendidly evocative, and historically vital, disc, beautifully performed.
Written by Laurie Stras.
Last updated 04 October, 2002.
The views expressed in this document are those of the author and not those of the University of Southampton.