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GRAMOPHONE ( 06/ 2019)
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Reviewer: Edward Breen

Inspired by seven surviving vihuela songbooks published between 1536 and 1576, this programme proffers a newly imagined book ‘as if published in Valladolid or Seville between 1570 and 1580’, with arrangements by Ariel Abramovich and Jacob Heringman. The disc is also something of a solo Renaissance debut for María Cristina Kiehr, capturing her wonderfully clear and controlled tone in the most intimate combination: solo voice and vihuela. I have been a fan of her artistry ever since I first heard René Jacobs’s groundbreaking recording of Caldara’s Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo (Harmonia Mundi, 11/96), in which she sang the part of Magdalen. Yet, despite her distinctive soprano voice rarely venturing outside Baroque repertoire, this album, with its strong focus on Spain’s Golden Age, will quickly prompt a delightful recalibration of her repertoire.

Kiehr has a ceramic glaze to her delivery: smooth and cool on the surface but warm and pleasingly textured underneath. Her dark vowels create a rich tone that never falters but just occasionally – in Arcadelt’s Se per colpa del vostro fiero sdegno in particular – I would prefer more immediacy. Elsewhere she is supreme in bright, luminous textures: the refreshing wash of Arcadelt’s Chiare, fresche et dolci acque is superb.

John Potter – another long-term collaborator with Abramovich – is a welcome visitor in this programme, bound up as it is with his own specialism of Renaissance polyphony arranged for voice and lute. Referred to as ‘mythical’ on the disc’s official webpage (outhere-music.com), his warm and soft-grained voice brings a change of texture for Josquin’s Inviolata, integra et casta es Maria at the mid-point.

Undercutting all of this is the wonderful vihuela-playing of Abramovich and Heringman. Beautifully recorded, their detailed execution of these complex polyphonic textures is as impressive and enjoyable as the programme they have created.

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