Lacrime Amare: Bianca Maria Meda motets

Lacrime Amare
Bianca Maria Meda motets (1691)
Cappella Artemisia, Candace Smith
Brilliant Classics 95736. 79’04


Jesu mi clementissime, Vibrate, Anime belle, O quante contra me, In foco ardentissime,
O lacrime amare, Volo vivere, No non tentate, Spirate vos zeffiri

This is potentially an important recording from Cappella Artemisia, an all-female choir and orchestra, founded in 1991 by Candace Smith, a Californian long resident in Italy. Little is known of Bianca Maria Meda. She was born around 1665 and died around 1700 and was a Benedictine nun in San Martino del Leano Pavia. Her only published work is the Mottetti a 1, 2, 3, e 4 voci, con violini (Bologna, 1691). Judging by the quality of the nine examples on this recording, she was a very accomplished composer. Cappella Artemisia is an all-female choir and orchestra who specialise in music composed in, and for, 16/17th-century Italian convents. It founded in 1991 by Candace Smith, a Californian long resident in Italy. 

The recording is billed as a world premiere, but I have a feeling there are some other recordings of Bianca Maria Meda out there. But nonetheless, this recording is a commendable venture by Cappella Artemisia. There are nine singers, many of which have prominent solo moments. The singers have an impressive vocal range, from soprano to parts designated as bass, all intended to be sung by nuns. The accompanying instrumentalists provide very appropriate continuo and solo contributions, notably with some impressive dulcian playing by Elena Bianchi on all but one track, providing a solid bass line.

Sadly, I do have a problem with the singing. They may have researched the singing style of the nuns of Pavia and adjusted their singing style to suit but, for my tastes, their use of almost continuous vocal vibrato is excessive. Unfortunately, this amplifies some occasionally rather questionable intonation. There are times when some of the singers briefly demonstrate that they can hold a straight tone at the start of a long-held note. On these occasions, the addition of a slight vibrato as an ornament towards the end is entirely appropriate. But here it is not only rarely ‘slight’, but it seems to be the straight tone that is the exceptional ‘ornament’. It was recorded in the convent church of Santa Cristina della Fondazza which has an impressive musical history. It seems to be a sizeable space, and there is a noticeable acoustic bloom to the acoustic.

A video of some of the recording session can be seen here. A modern score of the motets can be found on IMSLP.