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"Orfeo Fantasia"

Charles Daniels, tenor
Montréal Baroque
Dir: Susie Napper
rec: June 22 - 23, 2004, La Prairie, Église de la Nativité
ATMA - SACD2 2337 (© 2005) (62'14")

anon: La Rosignol [7]; Giulio CACCINI (c1550-1618): Odi, Euterpe, il dolce canto [2]; John DOWLAND (1563-1626): Flow my tears [1]; Lasso vita mia [5]; (arr anon): Pavana lachrymae, arr for keyboard, arr for 2 lutes; Pierre GUÉDRON (c1575-c1620): Quel espoir de guarir [6]; Tobias HUME (c1565-1645): Cease leaden slumber [3]; My hope is revived [3]; My joys are coming[3]; Sigismondo D'INDIA (c1580-1629): Lamento d'Orfeo [8]; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): L'Orfeo: Prologue (ritornello), act 1 (Rosa del ciel), act 2 (Vi ricorda, o boschi ombrosi), act 5 (Questi i campi di Tracia); Giovanni PICCHI (?-c1630): Toccata [4]

(Sources: [1] Dowland, The Second Booke of Songs or Ayres, 1600; [2] Caccini, Le Nuove Musiche, 1601; [3] Hume, Poeticall Musicke, 1607; [4] Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, c1610-c1625; [5] Dowland, A Pilgrimes Solace, 1612; [6] Guédron, Airs de cour, 1613; [7] Jane Pickering Lute Book, 1616; [8] D'India, Le Musiche del Cavalier, Libro quarto, 1621)

Margaret Little, treble viol, bass viol; Susie Napper, bass viol; Nigel North, lirone, lute; Sylvain Bergeron, lute; Olivier Fortin, harpsichord, organ; Skip Sempé, harpsichord

At first sight there seems to be no connection between the title of this disc and a large section of the programme. Only the extracts from Monteverdi's opera L'Orfeo and the solo aria by Sigismondo d'India seem to have anything to do with Orpheus, the mythological singer who enchanted friend and foe with his art. But there is more to the myth of Orpheus than the character itself and the stories about him, in particular his love for Euridice and his journey to the underworld to bring her back to the world of the living. In the baroque era Orpheus became the symbol for the belief in the power of music. And at the end of the 16th century attempts were made to recreate the ancient declamation which was thought to be the key element of Greek tragedy. The monodic style was the direct result of this ideal. Most pieces in the programme are illustrating the 'declamatory' style in musical composition of the early 17th century.

Although John Dowland seems to have met Giulio Caccini, who pretended to be the 'inventor' of monody, during his stay in Italy, he can't be considered a composer of monodies. But his songs are strong evidence of the ability of music to express human emotions, which was the main goal of the Italian monody. One of the most famous and impressive examples is his song Flow my tears, which ends the programme on this disc. Dowland also made a setting for viol consort, Pavana Lachrymae, and an anonymous arrangement for keyboard of this setting opens the programme. It is only one of the many arrangements of this piece in the early 17th century, not only in England, but also on the continent. It is best known for the descending tetrachord with which it begins. On this disc the arrangement is immediately followed by the Prologue from Monteverdi's first opera L'Orfeo, which contains the same motif.

The items by Hume and Caccini and the air de cour by the French composer Pierre Guédron also strongly express human emotions, even without being sung, like the first two songs by Tobias Hume, which are played on viols and on harpsichord respectively. It strongly depends upon the players whether the expressive character of these pieces is brought out, and the interpreters on this disc certainly know how to do that. All the instrumentalists involved are excellent performers who are fully aware of what they are dealing with. With Charles Daniels they have found an outstanding singer with a wide experience in early music. His voice reminds me of Nigel Rogers's, the English tenor who has done so much for the exploration of early 17th-century music, in particular the Italian monody. Sometimes I felt the emotion in Daniels's interpretations could be a little stronger, but on the whole I am very impressed by his singing. Guédron's Quel espoir de guarir and Dowland's two songs are among the highlights of his performance.

The tracks are following each other without interruption. This creates a strong sense of unity within the programme, and for the most part it works pretty well, but sometimes the changeover from one track to the next is less than satisfying, for instance from the Lamento from Monteverdi's L'Orfeo to Dowlands song Flow my tears. And D'India's Lamento d'Orfeo starts when the sound of the harpsichord which played Picchi's Toccata is still dying down, which is acoustically a little awkward as the harpsichord is taking a back seat all of a sudden.

The concept of this disc is well thought-out, and there is enough variety in the programme to keep the listener's attention. With both music and interpretation being of first-rate quality I strongly recommend this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2008)

Relevant links:

Montreál Baroque

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