Ferveur & Extase
French ensemble Amarillis set out here to explore two female characters who fascinated Baroque sensibilities, Dido and the Virgin Mary. An unlikely pairing, you might think, and indeed Amarillis themselves seem to have been more attracted to the Queen of Carthage than the Queen of Heaven: a diagram like the ones they put up at the end of football matches would show nearly two-thirds of the possession going to the former.
Dido appears in excerpts from Cavalli’s La Didone and Alessandro Scarlatti’s La Didone delirante, and in a chamber cantata by Michelangelo Faggioli, in most of which she is seen railing distractedly against her fate while still not being able to relinquish her love for Aeneas, a nicely complex state of mind for those talented Baroque dramatists to get their teeth into. Good as they are, however, they are soundly trounced at the very end by Purcell’s more emotionally dignified lament, in a deeply moving league of its own as always.
Mary is depicted in an ardent yet controlled love song by Barbara Strozzi and in Il pianto della Madonna, Monteverdi’s ingenious contrafactum of his own Lamento d’Arianna, in which the new Latin text somehow exercises a calming effect on its secular model. Stéphanie d’Oustrac is likewise alert to the need for decorum here, and elsewhere demonstrates arresting dramatic personality and intelligence with text to go with a mezzo voice with flexibility, lyrical composure and fragility enough to prevent her from sounding like an identikit raving lady.
This sensitively designed programme also uses well-chosen instrumental items by Marini, Falconieri and Scarlatti to lead from one vocal piece to another or to initiate or conclude a section. They are all performed with gusto by Amarillis, a group who clearly enjoy taking trouble over such programmes as this.