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"Alfabeto Songs - Guitar songs from 17th-century Italy"

Raquel Anduezaa, Theresa Dlouhyb, sopramo
Private Musicke
Dir: Pierre Pitzl

rec: Jan 2012, St Pölten, Bischöfliches Palais
Accent - ACC 24273 (© 2013) (64'24")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Bartolomeo BARBARINO de Fabriano (c1570-after 1640): Bella è la Donna miaab; Marcantonio Aldigiatti DE CESENA (?-?): Deh volgetemi il guardoa; Francesco CORBETTA (c1615-1681): Passacaglia in A; Passacaglia in B; Flamminio CORRADI (fl 1615-1644): Odi Euterpeab; Giovanni Paolo FOSCARINI (fl 1629-1647): Aria di Fiorenza sopra C; Ciacona in C; Giovanni Girolamo KAPSBERGER (c1580-1651): Felici gl'animiab; Rosa Biancaa; Tarquinio MERULA (1594/95-1665): Quando io volsi l'altra seraa; Girolamo MONTESARDO (fl 1606-c1620): Anima dove seia; La Gravea; Gaspar SANZ (1640-1710): Passacaglia in D; (fl 1618-1626) (ed): Alma mia (Aria della Folia)a; Amante felice (sopra l'aria della Ciaccona)a; O voi ch'intorno al lagrimoso cantoa; Partenzaa

Richard Myron, violone, colascione; Jesús Fernandez Baena, theorbo; Daniel Pilz, colascione; Pierre Pitzl, Hugh Sandilands, guitar; David Mayoral, percussion

The title of this disc refers to a fingering notation system for chords. It was developed in the wake of the emergence of the 5-string chitarra espagnola around 1580. In this system a single letter is assigned to each guitar chord, for instance the A indicating G major, whereas numbers above single letters refer to barré chords. This term is used to describe the technique of stopping all or several of the strings at the same point by holding a finger across them (as explained in New Grove). The number denotes the fret used for the barré. Some composers utilised letters for dissonant chords and acciaccaturas. The programme of this disc brings together pieces by Italian composers from the first half of the 17th century, either for voice and guitar or for guitar solo. In many vocal compositions the choice of accompanying instruments was left to the performer, and could include harpsichord or organ, but also theorbo or harp. The use of the alfabeto in songs is an indication that the composer meant the voice to be accompanied by the guitar.

It was mostly the more light-hearted repertoire in which the guitar was involved. Among these are especially villanelle and canzonette. These were usually written in strophic form and avoid heavy emotions. These were quite popular in the late 16th and early 17th century. Even composers of high stature such as Lassus, Monteverdi or Kapsberger contributed to these genres.

This disc includes many pieces by lesser-known composers, such as Girolamo Montesardo and Bartolomeo Barbarino de Fabriano. Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger was one of the most famous theorbo players of his time and moved in the highest circles in Rome. Francesco Corbetta was the greatest guitar player of his time, according to Gaspar Sanz, no mean talent himself.

A special case is Giovanni Paolo Foscarini who travelled across Europe and caused some sensation with his playing of the guitar. There appears to be some evidence that he performed with other players and therefore a performance with some instruments could be justified. In most other cases that seems rather questionable, though. As the list of members of Private Musicke suggests mostly more than just one guitar is involved in the performance of the songs. It is regrettable that Pierre Pitzl in his liner-notes doesn't discuss this aspect of the performance practice. I doubt that the music scores give any indication of the involvement of more than one instrument. Especially the inclusion of percussion in almost every piece is debatable. At the end of the third stanza of Deh volgetemi il guardo the accompaniment is so dominant that the vocal line is almost relegated to the background.

Raquel Andueza is a specialist in 17th-century vocal music and has some fine recordings to her name. Her light and agile voice is excellently suited to this repertoire. She doesn't try too much which is as well because this music does not call for a very emotional approach. La Grave by Girolamo Montesardo is different: this is a kind of monody as we know it from the likes of Giulio Caccini. Here Ms Andueza's performance has stronger dynamic contrasts and she colours her voice according to the text. There are some other items where I felt that more of this would have led to a more incisive result, such as the piece by Aldigiatti de Cesena mentioned above and Stefani's O voi ch'intorno. The latter is not the composer, by the way, but the editor of the collection from which the several pieces are taken; the authors of the songs are not known.

This disc is interesting in regard to the repertoire. The guitar is regularly used these days in 17th century music, but discs devoted to songs specifically intended for guitar accompaniment are rare. The inclusion of pieces by various hardly-known composers makes it even more worthwhile. The questionable aspects - although regrettable - have not in any way diminished my enjoyment. If you are a guitar aficionado or a lover of 17th-century Italian repertoire there is no need to hesitate. This disc will make a nice addition to your collection.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Raquel Andueza
Private Musicke

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