musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Instrumental music from the first half of the 17th century

[I] "Sculpting the fabric"
La Vaghezza
rec: July 11 - 15, 2020, Jujurieux
Ambronay - AMY313 (© 2021) (52'43")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Dario CASTELLO (1621-1658): Sonata III [3]; Francesco CAVALLI (1602-1676): Canzona à 3 [9]; Andrea FALCONIERI (1585-1656): Folias echa para mi Señora Doña Tarolilla de Carallenos [8]; Giovanni Battista FONTANA (1589-1630): Sonata VII [7]; Andrea GABRIELI (1533-1585): Giovane donna sott'un verde lauro (diminutions: Ignacio Ramal); Tarquinio MERULA (1595-1665): Ballo detto Eccardo [6]; Ballo detto Gennaro [6]; Ballo detto Pollicio [6]; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Cor mio non mori? à 5 (SV 77) [1] (diminutions: Mayah Kadish); Salomone ROSSI (1570-1630): Sinfonia VIII [5]; Sinfonia IX [2]; Sinfonia IX [5]; Francesco TURINI (1589-1656): Sonata à 3 'Il Corisino' [4]; Giovanni Battista VITALI (1632-1692): Bergamasca [10]

Sources: [1] Claudio Monteverdi, Il quarto libro de madrigali, 1603; [2] Salomone Rossi, Il primo libro delle sinfonie e gagliarde, 1607; [3] Dario Castello, Sonate concertate in stil moderno per sonar nel organo overo spineta con diversi instrumenti, libro primo, 1621; [4] Francesco Turini, Madrigali con alcune sonate, libro I, 1621; [5] Salomone Rossi, Il terzo libro de varie sonate, sinfonie, gagliarde, brandi e corrente, op. 12, 1623; [6] Tarquinio Merula, Canzoni overo sonate concertate per chiesa e camera, libro terzo, 1637; [7] Giovanni Battista Fontana, Sonate a 1. 2. 3. per il violino, o cornetto, fagotto, chitarone, violoncino o simile altro istromento, 1641; [8] Andrea Falconieri, Il primo libro di canzone, sinfonie, fantasie, capricci, brandi, correnti, gagliarde, alemane, volte, 1650; [9] Francesco Cavalli, Musiche sacre concernenti messa, e salmi concertati con istromenti, imni, antifone et sonate, 1656; [10] Giovanni Battista Vitali, Partite sopra diverse Sonate per il violone, n.d.

Ignacio Ramal, Mayah Kadish, violin; Anastasia Baraviera, cello; Gianluca Geremia, theorbo; Marco Crosetto, harpsichord, organ

[II] Carlo FARINA: "Capriccio Stravagante"
Ensemble Concerto
Dir: Roberto Gini
rec: Oct 26 - 28, 2016, Parma, Chiesa di San Rocco
Aulicus Classics - ALC 0043 (© 2021) (69'41")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Aria franzesa II [3]; Balletto II à 4 [5]; Capriccio stravagante [2]; Gagliarda I à 4 [1]; Gagliarda I à 4 [4]; Gagliarda II à 4 [5]; Pavana I à 4 [5]; Pavana III à 4 [1]; Pavana III à 4 [2]; Pavana III à 4 [3]; Pavana V à 4 [3]; Pavana VI à 4 [3]; Volta I à 4 [1]; Volta I à 4 [4]; Volta III à 4 [4]

Sources: [1] Libro delle Pavane, Gagliarde, Brand: Mascharata, Aria Franzesa, Volte, Balletti, Sonate, Canzone. à 2. 3. 4. Voce, con il Basso per sonare, 1626; [2] Ander Theil Newer Padvanen, Gagliarden, Covranten, Frantzösischen Arien, benebenst einem kurtzweiligen Quodlibet, von allerhand seltzamen Inventionen, dergleichen vorhin im Druck nie gesehen worden. Sampt etlichen Teutschen Täntzen, alles auff Violen anmutig zugebrauchen. Mit Vier Stimmen, 1627; [3] Il terzo libro delle pavane, gagliarde, brand: mascherata, arie franzese, uolte, corrente, sinfonie, a 3. 4. voci, con il basso per sonare, 1627; [4] Il quarto libro delle Pavane gagliarde, balletti, volte, passamezzi, sonate, canzon: a. 2. 3. & 4. Voci, con il basso per sonare, 1628; [5] Fünffter Theil, Newer Pavane[n] Gagliarden, Brand: Mascharaden, Balletten, Sonaten. Mit 2. 3. vnd 4. Stimmen auff Violen anmutig zugebrauchen, 1628

Claudia Combs, violin; Massimo Percivaldi, viola; Roberto Gini, tenor cello; Marco Angilella, violone; Sara Dieci, harpsichord, organ

[III] "Rorate coeli"
La Rvbina
rec: April 15/June 9 - 11, 2021, Leipzig, Neuapostolische Kirche
Raumklang - RK 4102 (© 2021) (71'28")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Dario CASTELLO (1602-1631): Sonata II [4]; Sonata II [7]; Sonata X [4]; Sonata XI [4]; Alessandro GRANDI (c1586-1630): Deus meus [1]; O quam tu pulchra es [1]; Giovanni PICCHI (c1571-1643): Canzon II [5]; Giovanni Battista RICCIO (c1570-1621): La Rubina [3]; Johann ROSENMÜLLER (c1619-1684): Sonata V [10]; Sonata VI [10]; Johann Hermann SCHEIN (1586-1630): Exaudiat te Dominus [6]; Intrada [2]; 2 Padouanas [2]; Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672): Die Gottseligkeit ist zu allen Dingen nütz (SWV 299) [8]; Ich liege und schlafe (SWV 310) [9]; O Jesu, nomen dulce (SWV 308) [9]; Rorate coeli (SWV 322) [9]; Wann unsre Augen schlafen ein (SWV 316) [9]

Sources: [1] Alessandro Grandi, Il primo libro de motetti, con una messa, 1610; [2] Johann Hermann Schein, Banchetto musicale newer ... Padouanen, Gagliarden, Courenten und Allemanden à 5, auff allerley Instrumenten, 1617; [3] Giovanni Battista Riccio, Il terzo libro delle divine lodi musicali ... et alcune canzoni da sonare, 1620/21; [4] Dario Castello, Sonate concertate in stil moderno per sonar nel organo overo spineta con diversi instrumenti, libro primo, 1621; [5] Giovanni Picchi, Canzoni da sonar con ogni sorte d'istromenti, 1625; [6] Johann Hermann Schein, Opella nova, ander Theil, geistlicher Concerten, 1626; [7] Dario Castello, Sonate concertate in stil moderno per sonar nel organo overo spineta con diversi instrumenti, libro secondo, 1629; [8] Heinrich Schütz, [8] Erster Theil kleiner geistlichen Concerten, 1636; [9] Anderer Theil kleiner geistlichen Concerten, 1639; [10] Johann Rosenmüller, Sonate da camera, 1667

Nora Hansen. recorder, dulcian; Friederike Otto, cornett, dulcimer, organ; Claudia Mende, violin, viola; Christoph Sommer, lute; Zita Mikijanska, harpsichord, organ

The decades around 1600 were a time of many and far-reaching changes in the style of composing and performing. In vocal music the text was given utmost priority; the music should serve the communication of the text and the affetti it aimed to express. Instrumental music became a field of much experimentation. First of all, whereas before instruments mostly played vocal music - either in support of voices or replacing them - composers started to write music which was specifically intended for instruments. Secondly, with time instrumental music became more idiomatic, meaning that the specific features of a particular instrument were explored. Thirdly, it became more virtuosic. Whereas in the Renaissance composers were usually educated as singers or as players of plucked or keyboard instruments, several from the early decades of the 17th century learnt to play a melody instrument, for instance Giovanni Battista Fontana (violin) and Dario Castello (cornett).

Although some composers specified which instruments should perform a piece, in many cases it was left to the performers to choose the instruments on which they wanted to play canzonas or sonatas. This explains the different ways the three ensembles, whose recordings are reviewed here, approach the repertoire written in the first half of the 17th century.

The ensemble La Vaghezza has put together a programme, in which the main exponents of the stile nuovo are brought together. However, they have largely avoided the 'evergreens', included in so many performances of this repertoire, both live and on disc. One of the best-known pieces is the Sonata à 3 by Francesco Cavalli, whose character betrays the dramatic instincts of the composer. It is a specimen of the stylus phantasticus, in which sections of contrasting characters follow each other without interruption. This piece is embraced by two balli. Such pieces had their origin in opera. Dance music would continue to be part of French opera, but was omitted from the Italian opera seria around 1700. Balli could also be written and performed as independent instrumental music.

Giovanni Battista Fontana was violinist by profession. However, his Sonata VII is taken from a collection whose title indicates that the various parts can be played on different instruments. About Dario Castello we know very little, but he was the director of the wind ensemble at St Mark's in Venice. There are reasons to assume that he may have been a professional bassoon player, which could explain the virtuosic bassoon parts in his sonatas. In his two collections of sonatas he also offers several options as far as the instrumental scoring is concerned, even though most sonatas specify the required instruments. However, the Sonata III only indicates due soprani, which allows a performance on two violins, as is the case here.

One of the lesser-known composers is Francesco Turini, who was held in high esteem as an organist, but was not a violinist. However, he was one of the first who introduced the concertato style in madrigals by adding two violin parts to the vocal parts and he was also one of the first who composed trio sonatas. One of them is the one performed here, entitled Il Corisino. The programme includes three sinfonias by Salomone Rossi, who was Jewish and has become best-known for his psalm settings in Hebrew. These are rather conservative in style, and so are his madrigals, but his sinfonias are for two melody instruments and basso continuo, which sets them apart from other specimens of this genre.

La Vaghezza has extended the programme towards the second half of the 17th century by including a piece by Giovanni Battista Vitali. His Bergamasca is taken from a collection of pieces for a string bass and basso continuo. He used the word violone for this instrument, but that should not be interpreted as the 16' instrument that is often used in baroque orchestras, but rather as something comparable with the cello.

Diminutions were an important genre in Italy in the decades around 1600, and several treatises were published which instructed the reader how to make his own diminutions. They include examples, and these are often performed. Recently several performers have started to use the treatises as what they are intended for, and play diminutions of their own making. It is nice that we get two specimens of this practice here, for which madrigals by Andrea Gabrieli and Claudio Monteverdi have been chosen.

La Vaghezza is one of the ensembles supported by the EEEmerging scheme, which aims at promoting young musicians to make a career in the world of early music. That bears fruit, as I have noticed over the years in concerts and recordings. This disc is one of them: this is an interesting ensemble, which has recorded a nice programme with some variety, and which is played in an engaging manner. The technical skills are impressive, and the interpretation is convincing. There is just one issue: the use of a cello in this repertoire seems a little anachronistic. A viola da gamba or bass violin may be better options. Even so, this is an ensemble to keep an eye on.

The ensemble La Rubina has put together a programme of Italian and German music from the first half of the 17th century. The composer who binds them together is not represented in the programme, but is the subject of the second disc. Carlo Farina was educated as a violinist and made a career in this capacity in Italy and Germany. Especially through his activities in Dresden, at the court where Heinrich Schütz was Kapellmeister, he laid the foundation of what was to become the German-Austrian violin school. One of its later exponents was Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber.

During his relatively short life - he died of the plague around the age of 40 - he worked at various places. He was born in Mantua and it seems likely that he took lessons from the above-mentioned Salomone Rossi. In 1625 Farina became violinist at the court in Dresden. Probably as a result of the Thirty Years War he returned to Italy, then went to Danzig and after only a couple of years to Vienna, where he died in 1639.

The largest part of his oeuvre is included in the five books with instrumental pieces which were published between 1626 and 1628 in Dresden. Although he was a brilliant violinist, only ten sonatas - included in the first, fourth and fifth books - and his famous Capriccio stravagante are specifically intended for violins. The other pieces can be played on a variety of instruments and belong among the category of consort music which was popular across Europe. In fact, this part of his repertoire is rooted in the prima prattica of the 16th century, whereas the sonatas are specimens of the modern concertato style.

The Ensemble Concerto has selected a number of dances - pavana, gagliarda, volta - from the five books, and closes with the Capriccio stravagante. Although the dances are written in the stile antico, in which all the parts are treated on equal footing, in some the upper voice has soloistic traces. An example is the Pavana tertia from the second book. Its role is more important in the Capriccio stravagante, but the performers approach the entire repertoire as consort music. I have heard performances of the Capriccio stravagante, in which the violin was treated much more as a soloist. Here it takes a more modest role, and that makes this recording an alternative to other performances.

It seems that there is no complete recording of Farina's five books. That is a shame, as this is very fine music, and Farina's oeuvre deserves more attention than the Capriccio stravagante. It is served very well by the Ensemble Concerto, which delivers outstanding performances of a well-chosen selection from the five books.

Whereas in the first two discs the ensembles comprise only string instruments, playing with a keyboard and/or plucked instrument in the basso continuo, the ensemble La Rubina makes extensive use of wind instruments: recorder, cornett and dulcian.

The surprising aspect of this disc is the inclusion of vocal pieces, which all belong to the genre of the sacred concerto. This was a genre that was the vocal counterpart of instrumental works with basso continuo. Vocal and instrumental music written according to the concertato principle had it common that they were based on rhetorics and affetti. Both singers and players had to perform in a declamatory manner. From that angle the mixture of vocal and instrumental pieces makes much sense.

However, if one looks into the booklet, one will find out that no singer was involved in this recording. The vocal items are performed instrumentally. This was a wide-spread practice in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The question is whether this was still common in the 17th century. One thing that was different from previous eras was the connection between text and music. Before the time around 1600, when the style we use to call 'Baroque' was born, this connection was either absent or pretty loose, which allowed for an instrumental performance without losing too much of a piece's meaning. That changed drastically in the 17th century. Alessandro Grandi was an important composer of sacred concertos for solo voice(s) and basso continuo, and Heinrich Schütz was his German counterpart. The latter was called musicus poeticus for a reason.

This made me rather sceptical about this practice of performing sacred concertos instrumentally. Unfortunately, the liner-notes don't discuss this issue. They also don't include any indication of instrumental versions of vocal works that have been written in the 17th century. If this was practised, it may have been mostly improvised, which would explain the lack of sources. Even so, I can't remember having heard such performances before.

Having listened to this disc I am positively surprised about the result of the ensemble's efforts: the vocal pieces sound much better than I expected. A good example is Schütz's O Jesu nomen dulce, which is performed here on the cornett, accompanied by lute. The cornett was considered an instrument that was able to imitate the human voice, and that is confirmed here.

That said, I missed the text; it had been a good idea to print the texts in the booklet anyway, just to give an idea of what the vocal pieces wanted to express. I have nothing but praise for the way the music is performed. I had not heard this ensemble before, and it makes an excellent impression here with its differentiated and dynamic performances. Whereas the instrumental items are mostly pretty well-known, there is little chance that you have heard the vocal items performed in the way they are here. That may encourage those who have a special interest in this repertoire to investigate this disc. It is an interesting contribution to the field of performance practice anyway.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

Relevant links:

La Rvbina
La Vaghezza

CD Reviews