musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Nobil Donna"

Suzie LeBlanc, sopranoa
La Nef
Dir: Alexander Weimann

rec: June 2009, Mirabel, Québec, Église Saint-Augustin
ATMA - ACD2 2605 (© 2010) (69'12")

Benedetto FERRARI (c1603-1681): Amanti, io vi so direa [6]; Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): Canzona II a basso solo [3]; Canzona II a canto solo [3]; Toccata per Spinettina e Violino [3]; Giovanni Girolamo KAPSBERGER (c1580-1651): Corrente V; Sinfonia XII à 2 canti [1]; Stefano LANDI (1586-1639): Amarillide, deh vienia [2]; La morte d'Orfeo (Mentre cantiam); Marco MARAZZOLI (c1602-1662): Nobil Donna in rozzo mantoa; Ricardo ROGNONI (1550-1620): Pulchra es amica mea (after Palestrina); Luigi ROSSI (1597-1653): Orfeo (Dormite begl'occhi; Laciate Averno)a; Passacaglia; Giovanni Felice SANCES (1600-1679): Accenti querulia [4]; Usurpator Tirannoa [5]; Bernardo STORACE (c1637-1707): Ciaconnab [7]; Giovanni Battista VITALI (1632-1692): Ciaccona

Sources: [1] Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, Libro I di sinfonie a 4, 1615; [2] Stefano Landi, Il secondo libro d’arie musicali, 1627; [3] Girolamo Frescobaldi, Canzoni da sonare, 1628; Giovanni Felice Sances, [4] Cantade … libro secondo, parte prima, 1633; [5] Cantade … libro secondo, parte seconda, 1633; [6] Benedetto Ferrari, Musiche a poesie varie .., libro III, 1641; [7] Bernardo Storace, Selva di varie compositioni d’intavolatura per cimbalo ed organo, 1664

Matthew Jennejohn, cornett; Chloe Meyers, violin; Amanda Keesmaat, cello; Sylvain Bergeron, theorbo, guitar; Christa Patton, triple harp; Alexander Weimann, harpsichord (solo b), organ

Italy of the 17th century was a patchwork of largely independent political entities. This worked out well for the arts, because there wasn't just a competition in the realm of politics and economics, but certainly also in arts and science. Princes, aristocrats, cities and churches aimed at attracting the best musicians available who could enhance their status and reputation. One of the wealthies families in Italy were the Barberinis. They were a Tuscan family of wool merchants, but also played a role in the church. When Maffeo Barberini was elected pope in 1623 he made two of his nephews cardinal, whereas a third became Prince of Palestrina and commander of the Papal army. Together they acted as patrons of the arts in Rome, surrounding themselves with some of the best poets, arists and musicians

This disc presents music by composers who were connected to the Barberini family. One of them was Girolamo Frescobaldi, who was the main composer of keyboard music in Italy in the first half of the 17th century and attracted many pupils. For two periods he worked in Rome, from 1608 to 1628 of the St Peter Basilica, and from 1634 until his death. The patronage of the Barberinis allowed him to publish his Fiori Musicali. And at the request of Cardinal Francesco Barberini he reworked the Canzoni da sonare, which were then printed in 1638.

Stefano Landi was a castrato and player of the harp and the guitar. He was born in Rome where he entered the Collegio Germanico and took minor orders. His first successes as an opera composer were in Venice where La morte d'Orfeo was first performed in 1619. It is a bit odd that all pieces by Landi at the programme don't feature his connection with the Barberinis. The strophic aria Amarillide, deh vieni is from a collection which was dedicated to the sister-in-law of his first patron, Cardinal Prince Maurizio of Savoy.

Marco Marazzoli also was a singer and player of the harp who entered the service of Cardinal Antonio Barberini. The largest part of his oeuvre was written for the Barberinis, like operas, oratorios and cantatas. Nobil Donna in rozzo manto is an example of the latter genre. Whether this was written for the Barberinis isn't told in the liner-notes; some of Marazzoli's cantatas were composed for performance at the court of Anne of Austria in Paris.

Another singer and harpist was Luigi Rossi who has become especially famous for his opera Orfeo which was written for performance at the French court. This was at the request of Cardinal Jules Mazarin, who was from Italy and belonged to the network of the Barberinis. Two excerpts from this opera are included, among them the famous lament 'Lasciate Averno'. The Passacaglia is an independent instrumental piece which may have been written while Rossi was in France.

Johann Hieronymus Kapsberger was the most famous theorbo players of his time who moved in the highest circles and was for many years at the service of Cardinal Francesco Barberini.

The other names on this disc are contemporaries who seem to have had no direct connection to the Barberinis. Benedetto Ferrari, nicknamed 'dalla Tiorba', was mainly active in Venice as a composer of operas. Amanti, io vi so dire is from his third and last collection of arias. Giovanni Felice Sances was born in Rome, but also has had no connection with the Barberini family. He composed secular and sacred vocal music, among them operas and oratorios. He ended his career at the imperial court in Vienna. The two pieces on this disc are specimens of his cantatas from two of his five collections with secular vocal music. Little is known about Bernardo Storace, except that he was working in Sicily. His Ciaccona is one of his most famous keyboard pieces, from his only collection of music ever printed.

The most surprising selections for this disc are the pieces by Rognoni and Vitali. Ricardo Rognoni died before the Barberinis came to power and had no ties to Rome. The only connection with Rome, albeit of a much earlier period, is the fact that he used pieces by Palestrina for diminutions, among them his motet Pulchra es amica mea. Giovanni Battista Vitali was a cellist, who was born and died in Bologna. He worked in Bologna as well as in Modena.

It is not easy to make a choice from the large repertoire produced in Italy in the 17th century. Considering the subject of this disc it is a bit surprising to find so many pieces which were performed in other cities than Rome or which are by composers who had no connections with the Barberinis. As opera played an important role in the environment of the Barberini family it is understandable that excerpts from operas are included, but the choice of Landi's La morte di Orfeo is not the most logical. It had been better to perform excerpts from Il Sant'Alessio, which was written for the Barberinis.

This brings me to the next issue about this recording: the scoring and the liberties the artists have taken. 'Mentre cantiam' is for at least three voices, 'euretti', the winds. The excerpt begins with the winds singing together. Here Suzie LeBlanc takes one of these parts, whereas the other two are performed on cornett and violin. That is quite strange, in particular as they partly act as echos of the first voice. The two solos, for the first and the second wind, are both sung by Suzie LeBlanc. As a result the contrast between the two parts is lost. I can't think of any reason to choose this fragment from Landi's opera.

The track-list doesn't tell from which collection Kapsberger's Corrente V is taken. I assume it was composed for the theorbo, but here it is performed as a piece for two treble instruments - cornett and violin - and bc. In Frescobaldi's Toccata per Spinettina e Violino the violin is a bit too dominant, at the cost of the harpsichord (why hasn't a spinet been used here?). Lastly, the use of a cello in repertoire before the mid-17th century is less appropriate. At that time a part for a string bass was mostly played on the viola da gamba or the bass violin.

That said one can only admire the performances. Suzie LeBlanc has the ideal voice for this kind of repertoire, and she delivers marvellous interpretations. The very first item on this disc, Accenti queruli by Giovanni Felice Sances, is a telling example. Here she impresses with her subtle text expression and her dynamic control. The accompaniment is also excellent, especially the rhythmic flexibility. The more light-hearted dance song Amarillide, deh vieni by Landi comes off equally well. In too many recordings the guitar is inappropriately used, but here it is spot on. 'Lasciate Averno' from Rossi's Orfeo and Sances' cantata Usurpator Tiranno are further evidence of Ms LeBlanc's interpretative prowess.

The playing of the instruments is of the same level. The cornett is beautifully played, for instance in Rognoni's diminutions on Pulchra es. Frescobaldi's Canzona II a canto solo is nicely executed by Chloe Meyers. The Ciaccona by Storace can easily become a virtuosic showpiece without much substance, but Alexander Weimann's differentiated approach reveals its qualities.

Despite my reservations regarding the choice of repertoire and the scoring of some pieces this is a highly enjoyable disc by artists who have a keen sense of what it takes to bring this music to life. The booklet includes programme notes and lyrics with translations in English and French.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Suzie LeBlanc
La Nef

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