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Culture: In the presence of giants; CD REVIEW.

Byline: Christopher Morley

Calliope - Emma Curtis and The Frol-ick (Avie AV2102)

This generous double-CD set is a mixture of the absolutely enthralling and the intensely irritating.

In the beautifully-illustrated insert-book accompanying this release, contralto Emma Curtis writes entertainingly of her research into the singers of 18th-century London, paying particular attention to the Italian castrato Senesino and the allure his enigmatic sexuality held for theatre-going groupies.

During the course of her investigations Curtis unearthed Calliope, a two-volume collection of songs popular in London one third into the 18th century, all English-language settings if not all of them by native English composers. Many well-known names are represented here, but the offerings from names obscure today are equally treasurable. And the range of music on offer is vast.

But this is where niggles start to creep in. Curtis simply tries too hard to encompass this variety of expressive techniques, attempting too much. There are some fabulous performances here, and the uncovering of a gorgeously rich and arresting lowest of registers, but there are also examples of hectic, unstable delivery, as well as a cockney-sparrer adoption of underclass accents which is simply irritating.

Accompaniments from a colourful instrumental ensemble are lively and positive, but with the name of this multi-national group comes the next venture up the nose.

It calls itself The Frolick and is a symptom of the coy, arch quaintness of language which is used so frequently in the announcements printed into the text.

Such foibles mar what is essentially a valuable historical document, and the eccentricities of Emma Curtis' vocal delivery make repeated listening something for the enthusiasts only.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Article Type:Sound recording review
Date:Jul 6, 2006
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