First Amazon review of “Prigionero d’Amor”

Rather a nice review to encounter, by Stephen Midgley:

There are two surprises in this recording – firstly, the obscure but impressive talents of the Italian baroque composer Giovanni Ruggieri (c.1669-1714); and secondly, the stylish and engaging musicality of the Aberdeen Early Music Collective. This combination, in the form of a selection of Ruggieri’s vocal and instrumental music, is delightful. I haven’t come across the above-named ensemble before but the booklet notes tell us that, in spite of their name, the musicians hail from much further afield – namely Aberdeen, Basel and Manchester.

As we can see from Ruggieri’s dates, this Venetian composer falls between the better-known mid-baroque composers such as Stradella, Steffani, Corelli and Alessandro Scarlatti, and the late-baroque generation of Bach’s contemporaries Vivaldi, Albinoni and company. The entire period was a highly productive period of music, producing numerous intriguing masters both minor and major, and so it proves in the case of Ruggieri. The musicians have organised a well-judged programme of two instrumental sonatas ‘da chiesa’ and four cantatas for solo soprano or alto voice. All the works consist of attractive, beautifully crafted and often affecting music, and the performances are first-class. The cantatas are composed to amorous texts, as was fashionable in the baroque era, generally expressing the mixed delights and torments of love – the programme’s title referring both to this ethos and to the composer’s familiarity with the Venetian prison system resulting from lower-level offences such as debt and embezzlement.

Returning to the music, the first cantata ‘Lidio, non ho più core’, opens with a cheerful instrumental sinfonia leading into a fine cantata sung by the beautifully pure and expressive alto voice of Dina König. The first aria, ‘Caro, che fai languir’, has a wistful instrumental ritornello and a very touching melody. The singing, and playing by the ensemble of three violins and continuo group of five, is lovely throughout. The musicians milk all appropriate feeling from the music’s inherent sentimentality, with effective results. The following Sonata in G minor is equally enjoyable, with an especially lively fugal second movement.

The next cantata, ‘Da due pupille’, this time taken by soprano Frauke Jürgensen, is equally fine, and again very nicely performed including inventive contributions from Ralph Steltzenmüller at the harpsichord. The following cantata ‘Io seguo e adoro’, again allotted to alto Dina König, is especially lovely, ending in a hauntingly beautiful aria ‘Il sol della mia vita’. The Sonata in A major brings enjoyable fugal passages in dance metre, with the continuo line often engagingly reinforced by bassoon. The programme ends in another attractive soprano cantata.

Recorded sound, from a college chapel in Aberdeen, is vivid and agreeable; booklet notes on composer and music are interesting and informative, and texts and translations are all included. Altogether, Ruggieri’s music turns out to be an excellent and highly attractive example of Venetian mid-baroque – not only fine and enjoyable fare but an extremely interesting and unfamiliar discovery. Moreover it receives the best possible advocacy here, in performances which have a strong individual flavour and are in themselves a delight to the ear. This is an extremely enterprising project and I would recommend it to all baroque fans, especially those of a certain curiosity. I also very much hope we will hear more, both of the composer and from this excellent ensemble.

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