Let’s talk about love. Magdalena Kožená’s ‘Lettere Amorose' will be touring Europe from now until just after Valentine’s Day. Yes, love, because anyone imagining that the subject matter of these songs from the early seventeenth century will be sweetness or light (or for that matter chocolates or lingerie) will be severely disappointed.

Handle with care. Every one of these confections has been laced with “veneno” (poison), kept in “catene” (chains), or is being used for target practice by “dardi” (arrows.) It’s less of a saunter in the park than straying onto the set of The Shining. This kind of love is less of a gondola ride, more of an assault course.

One notices the poems, firstly, because mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená word-paints so cleverly, and makes every syllable count, with fabulous diction and variety of vocal timbre. In the second song “Cruda Amarilli” by Sigismondo D’India, the mood-swing from “amar”/ “amaramente” (bitter) to the name Amarilli was judged beautifully. In another song by d’India, much later, the stretched-out rising scale on the word “esangui” was not just exquisitely handled but also very affecting.

Kožená is billed as a mezzo and has all the range and variety one could wish for. She can dig deep, or be agile. She is flawlessly musical, but can also hammer home the dramatic. And in Monteverdi’s “Si dolce e ‘l tormento” her voice wafted beautifully high into soprano territory.

But if one notices those words it is for another reason. All that drama and the poignant imagery, perhaps, do occasionally come to the rescue of some pretty thin musical material. Kožená alludes to one example of this in the promo video when discussing Merula’s “Canzonetta Spirituale” in which the Christ-mother pictures her son, still a just baby, being put to death. For a woman, for a mother, there is perhaps no vision more poignant than this. But, as Kožená laments in the film, “it’s just two chords.” Her point is well made, and not just for that song.

By contrast, the one song in the programme by Barbara Strozzi “L’Eraclito Amoroso,” about the realization of a man’s faithlessness has musical heft and substance to spare. Bring on the Strozzi revival, say I.

I expect that some purists may have chosen to hate the Deutsche Grammophon record right from the start, and if they did, I suspect that Pierre Pritzl and the DG producers were making an intentional (audience-widening?) gag, and will have the last laugh. Pritzl’s four bar guitar vamp could just be designed to make an opera critic check that he or she has been sent the right CD. It’s the kind of rhythm which could be leading you anywhere, but you'd never guess it will be into a seventeenth century madrigal. Sure, you can tell it’s not the vamp for Neil Young’s Heart of Glass or Jobim’s Triste, but the precise destination is left a guessing game until Koženáa’s voice enters, singing Italian.

And that contemporary gag is by no means a one-off. There are very few concessions to stylistic authenticity. Yes, Pritzl’s players sport the authentic instruments: colascione (from the lute family), lirione (looked to me like a gamba), harp, violone (the Viennese predecessor to the double-bass), theorbo (the show-off Priapic type of lute), but the band is more than happy to allude shamelessly to the musical idioms of our time. A few examples: there was a heavy Nashville country backbeat in Briceño’s Caravanda Ciacona; Violone player Richard Myron spent most of the evening keeping pizzicato time like a jazz bass player; the Kapsberger song had more than a hint of Cuban clave; and I don’t think I was imagining an allusion to Albert Hammond’s “I’m a Train, I’m a Chook-a Train” in Foscareno’s Passamezzo.

If this was love, but not as we in the twenty-first century know it, it was also the Italian Seicento…..but with many concessions to what some will consider poor taste. I rather liked it.

The same programme will be repeated at the Wigmore Hall this Friday.