"I doubt anyone who had never heard Favella Lyrica could imagine what they do, or how well they do it: We've never heard anything quite like the duet singing of Pamela Murray and Pamela Dellal." 



Lyric Speech


If singing is enhanced speech, duet singing is yet more so -- the composer can explore the color, rhythm, and emotion of speech with twice as much power, without sacrificing the intimacy of the individual utterance. The chamber duets of the 17th and 18th centuries afford a terrific demonstration of this principle. None of the pieces presented here are in dialogue form, another popular duet style, but present the same text in both voices, in canon, in opposition, in unison, in equal and unequal ranges. The same words issuing from two people can create intimacy (Ahi, nelle sorti umane), competition (Nò, di voi non vo’ fidarmi), or even a sense of schizophrenia (Ardo). As in the trio sonata form beloved of Baroque composers, two voices can create many different musical textures: melody and accompaniment, two parallel melodies with accompaniment, and even three equally important voices (one here without text, but taking on the expression of the text). Favella Lyrica’s program today, “Lyric Speech,” revels in the diversity and the similarity of approaches taken by these great composers to the art of duet writing.

The chamber duet repertoire from the dawn of the Italian Baroque period is some of the richest, most passionate, and most ambitious material ever written for the human voice. It combines the kaleidoscopic penetration of the Mannerist madrigal, the emotional honesty of the early operatic monody, and the brilliant coloratura and sprezzatura of the instrumental works that sprang up so fruitfully during this period. Claudio Monteverdi is the dominant figure from this period. His duets display clear links to his brilliant operatic writing. The delightful Tornate, O cari baci opens with the word "tornate [return]" set in an antiphonal stretto which creates a wonderful sense of excitement. The middle section exploits the dialogue possibilities between two voices in a playful manner, with the upper voice impatiently interrupting the languid utterances of the lower voice until the lower voice is persuaded to join her companion in a merry canon.

The music written by Luzzasco Luzzaschi for the court singers of the Duke of Ferrara, known throughout Italy as the "Three Ladies of Ferrara", had a great influence on the composition of music for small ensembles of solo voices during the 17th century. The publication of the Concerte delle Dame in 1601 showed clear links to the madrigal style of the late 16th century, at which Luzzaschi excelled, but also broke new ground in the use of written-out virtuosic ornamentation and the new emphasis on the expressive power of the solo voice, both elements of which were derived from the skill of these brilliant singers. Deh, vieni ormai illustrates the subtle intermingling of the older and newer approaches, with the dying day painted in the dark low ranges of the voices, and the free ornamentation on the words "beata voce [blessed voice]" heralding the virtuosity of the solo singer. The ultimate vision of the disk of the sun slipping below the horizon is one of the very great moments in all of this repertoire.

Martino Pesenti was a Venetian composer and harpsichordist who was blind from birth. With a relatively small output, he never achieved much notoriety in his day or in ours. Ardo displays one of Pesenti's hallmarks, the use of new metrical forms. Here an intense, almost clinical illumination of the violent images of the poem in the opening section is characterized by close canons at the unison and a terrific sense for the inherent rhythm of the words. This gives way to a hypnotic passacaglia that surpasses in intensity all the tortured devices that preceded it.

Sigismondo D'India, a singer as well as a composer based in Rome, is particularly known for his expressive solo pieces. The monody Piangono al pianger mio distinctively combines the free, expressive rhythms of the classic Italian lament with the steady bass line of a standard Renaissance tune, the Romanesca. The insistent bass sets up interesting tensions with the more fluid, improvisational vocal line for a plaintive effect. Langue al vostro languir combines nuanced etching of mood and virtuosic display to serve unusual contrasts between fevered and languid passion. His harmonic daring during the passage "e quel che vi scolora [that which pales you]" is an uncanny musical analogue to the visual image. Monteverdi’s famous Zefiro torna, set to an infectious chaconne bass, is a captivating depiction of nature. The breathless list of the beauties of spring tumble out one over another, perfectly reflected by the relentless ostinato. So brilliantly set is this tableau that the listener could scarcely miss the billowing waves, echoing caves, and even a sunrise! And when, without warning, the poet plunges into despair, only to return to his euphoric singing, the melodrama becomes irresistible.

The two works by Henry Purcell are in the unusual style of secular religious music. The Elegy upon the Death of Queen Mary was written in 1695, in the last year of Purcell's life. Queen Mary II of Orange had been a great patron of Purcell, and he had written a series of birthday odes for her. The loss of her patronage was certainly quite a blow, and he responded with several pieces of staggering beauty that were performed at the State Funeral for the monarch, including this duet. Just eight months later the same piece was performed for Purcell's own funeral. Composed for a religious ceremony and set in Latin, the images in the poem are nevertheless those of Roman deities presiding at a funeral rite, lending a sense of voluptuous abandonment to grief that is more Classical than Christian. The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation, from his collection of sacred solo vocal works Harmonia Sacra, expands on a small scene in Luke Chapter II, when the twelve-year-old Jesus is inadvertently left behind in Jerusalem by Joseph and Mary. The text, presents an unusual view of a doubtful, passionate, and very human Mary who, in her terror at her Son's absence, even wonders whether her vision of the Archangel Gabriel was only a "waking dream." The episodes of dance meter punctuating the highly expressive, broken prosody of the main body of the piece are elements of Italian monody, transformed by Purcell into a unique scena that suggests sacred opera.

The duets of Heinrich Schütz are from the Kleine Geistliche Konzerte, published in 1639, during the Thirty Years' War. Schtz's studies in Italy in the seminal early 17th century resulted in his lifetime love of both the massed choral forces of Gabrieli and the passionate solo outpourings of Monteverdi, and in the intimate chamber settings of the KGK he was able to explore this language in a highly personal way. These duets are characterized by strikingly individual themes for each contrasting line of text, with a spontaneity of utterance and fervor of intent that both echo the Italian school and have a uniquely Christian exaltation. No composer from this period matches Schtz in the musical expression of joy: his strettoed crescendos on the Alleluias and final statements of these psalm settings achieve heights of emotion that leave one's heart beating faster. Der Herr is Groß, the first piece of the set, is a wonderfully noble expression of God's greatness. The gleaming melismas that open the work are followed by expansive whole notes proclaiming His might, which are subtly contradicted by an undertone whispering "ist unaussprechlich [it is inexpressible]." Erhöre mich projects a sense of tremendous unification. The entire duet is one heartfelt cry, from its mysterious opening to the ringing cadence at the end. This short piece affords a terrific display of Schütz' ability to intensify over several phrases, so that the whole seems like a single phrase. Habe deine Lust an dem Herren is the largest of the duets, with a scope that exceeds them by an order of magnitude. A sense of ever-expanding vistas, the result of heightened vision, drives the music forward. A quiet opening is followed by a free recitative section, which melts into an radiant passage marked by rising scales (“Hoffe auf den Herren [Hope in the Lord]”). A recapitulation of the opening material is developed in a more personal manner, setting the stage for a staggering Alleluia that extends for over a third of the length of the entire piece. Schütz explores this realm in every corner; alleluias answer antiphonally, chase each other contrapuntally, weave in and out of each other. Every syllable is stressed alternately in the various settings of this word. The triple-meter section is like an explosion of joy; another level has been reached. Just when the intensity seems to have peaked, a final chain of suspensions achieves the culmination of the ecstatic vision.

George Frideric Handel wrote chamber music for two voices during several creative periods in his life. The first was during his first trip to Italy, in 1707-09, and subsequently, 1710-1712, while he was court composer for Princess Caroline of Hannover (later Queen Caroline of England, Handel’s great patron); and much later in London, 1741-1745. The music in this genre thus spans nearly forty years of composition, during which he brought the Baroque genres of opera and oratorio to the pinnacles of musical form. The place these chamber pieces hold in Handel’s oeuvre presents more of a puzzle: not theatrical pieces, they are nevertheless clearly written for professional singers of operatic caliber to perform. Handel seemed to view the format of two voices and continuo as a forum for testing out new musical ideas, and various ways of working them through; in any case, a considerable amount of music from these pieces appears later in Handel’s greatest works, such as Messiah, Acis and Galatea, Alexander’s Feast, Belshazzar, etc. Contrary to the view previously held that these self-borrowings implied a lazy or somehow dishonest approach, what is most apparent about the borrowed material is the extensive reworking that Handel applies to the music, so that in each context the phrasing and character seem totally right. Tanti strali al sen mi scocchi, dating from the Hannover period, is a fine example of the complex variety of form that many of the early pieces display. The range of emotion this piece traverses is breathtaking: from the sweet, ingenuous sentimentality of the opening, through the achingly beautiful suspensions of the middle section, linked together as a sequence of dissonances depicting the wasting away of the jealous lover, it culminates at last in the outburst of confidence and virtuosity that concludes this massive structure. The opening motives of the first and last sections bear a strong resemblance to several passages in many other Handel vocal and instrumental works.

Johann Adam Reinken lived and worked for most of his astonishingly long life in Hamburg, as organist and conductor. His skill was so legendary that J.S. Bach was said to have walked all the way to Hamburg on several occasions to hear him play. The present Fugue in g minor is an energetic work based on a fugue theme of repeated notes, well developed by Reinken in the North German style made familiar to us by his younger contemporary and admirer.

Ahi, nelle sorti umane is from the 1740s, while Handel was writing his greatest works in London. It is the last chamber duet he wrote and is distinguished by an exquisite melody and a subtle use of harmonic motion. The second section exploits the textual opposition between pleasure and sorrow, and the phrase “compagni vanno [they go together]” evokes a playful and charming response from the two singers. Nò, di voi non vo' fidarmi was written in 1741, less than a year before the first performance of Messiah, which incorporates material from it. The coloratura, though brilliant, is playful and witty, with an archness that puts a comic spin on the text. The inevitable comparisons it evokes with its later reworkings in Messiah are grounds for even more delight, perhaps, than its composer intended.


Claudio Monteverdi
Tornate, o cari baci

Luzzasco Luzzaschi
Deh vieni ormai

Martino Pesenti

Sigismondo D'India
Piangono al pianger mio
Langue al vostro languir

Claudio Monteverdi
Zefiro torna


Henry Purcell
Elegy on the Death of Queen Mary
The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation

Heinrich Schütz
Der Herr ist groß
Erhöre mich
Habe deine Lust an dem Herren


George Frideric Handel
Tanti strali al sen mi scocchi

Johann Adam Reinken
Fugue in g minor

George Frideric Handel
Ahi, nelle sorte umani
Nò, di voi non vo' fidarmi