musica Dei donum
Raquel Andueza, soprano;
Jesús Fernández Baena, theorbo
rec: Feb 2012, Madrid, Guadarrama
Anima e Corpo - AeC002 (© 2012) (62'21")
Liner-notes: E/S; lyrics - translations: E/S
Cover & track-list
Follia del mondo ;
Lamento della Maddalena;
Madre, non mi far monaca ;
Spagnoletto dishonorato ;
Vana Bergamasca ;
Benedetto FERRARI (1603/04-1681):
Cantata spirituale (Queste pungenti spine) ;
Domenico MAZZOCCHI (1592-1665):
Amar a dios por dios ;
S'io mio parto;
Tarquinio MERULA (1594-1665):
Canzonetta spirituale sopra alla nanna ;
Giovanni Felice SANCES (c1600-1679):
Stabat mater (Pianto della Madonna) 
 Michele Pario, ed, Canzonette e madrigaletti spirituali ŕ 2. e 3. voci d'autori diversi, Libro VIII, 1610;
 Domenico Ferrari, Musiche varie a voce sola, libro secondo, 1637;
 Tarquinio Merula, Curtio precipitato et altri capricii, libro secondo, 1638;
 Giovanni Felice Sances, Motetti a una, due, tre, e quattro voci, 1638;
 Domenico Mazzocchi, Musiche sacre, e morali a una, due, e tre voci, 1640;
 div, Canzonette spirituali e morali, 1677
Since the 19th century sacred and secular music went their separate ways almost completely. That has partly to do with the fact that there were and are today many composers who choose to contribute to one genre or the other rather than both. That was pretty much unthinkable before the French Revolution. Many composers were equally at home in both departments and basically treated them similarly. Bach reused music from his secular cantatas for sacred works and in the early 17th century Monteverdi turned his Lamento d'Arianna into the Pianto della Madonna. The use of the same musical forms in sacred and secular music was quite common, although the ecclesiastical authorities often expressed their dismay about this practice. It make little difference as the large repertoire shows.
This disc offers some striking examples of sacred pieces which can only be distinguished from secular music through their texts. They are not written for liturgical use, as indicates the fact that they all set Italian texts. The exception is Sances's setting of the Stabat mater, which is taken from a collection which was printed under the title of Motetti. Even so, pieces like that were probably performed in private surroundings rather than in church.
Some pieces take the form of a canzonetta, which was quite popular in the 17th century. It is the more light-hearted counterpart of the aria and the cantata. Pieces such as the anonymous Follia del mondo and Vana Bergamasca belong to this category. Especially interesting is Madre non mi far monaca. It is a kind of folksong about a girl who urges her mother not to send her to a convent. This sheds light on a phenomenon of the time: many families could pay the dowry for only one of their daughters. The others were sent to a convent. This song shows that this situation deedn't meet with unanimous approval. The tune was often used for variations, for instance by Frescobaldi who even took it as the cantus firmus of a Mass.
The content of canzonettas isn't always light-hearted. That goes in particular for the Canzonetta spirituale sopra alla nanna by Tarquinio Merula. This piece has become quite popular and has been recorded several times. It is a lullaby in which Mary talks to her baby son. However, there are many dark intimations as she refers to what is going to happen to him. That element becomes increasingly dominant during the course of this work. It creates an interesting dichotomy of happiness and sorrow. Raquel Andueza brings out the increasing intensity and darkness quite well.
This piece is entirely based on a basso ostinato, a repeated figure in the bass which was very popular at the time and is one of the features of the repertoire on this disc. In this case the bass pattern comprises just two notes. I have already mentioned the Vana Bergamasca; its title refers to a bass pattern which was often used, the Bergamasca. This and Merula's canzonetta show that the basso ostinato can also be found in the lighter genres. Completely different in character is the last piece of the programme, the Cantata spirituale by Benedetto Ferrari which is about the suffering which goes with the love for God. It is divided into four parts, and entirely based on a descending tetrachord. That is also the foundation for the Stabat mater by Sances, another piece which is regularly performed and recorded.
This fact is one of the disappointments of this disc. Most of the pieces, including the largest, have been recorded before and are even pretty well-known. Lesser-known is the Lamento della Maddalena which is here attributed to Monteverdi. However, that is incorrect: this is an anonymous arrangement of Monteverdi's Pianto della Madonna. This arrangement was recently recorded by Les Cris de Paris. In my review I regretted that they didn't perform it as it has been passed down in manuscript, but the performance has more depth than the interpretation by Raquel Andueza. I really like her voice and I have written a positive review about her recording of 'Alfabeto songs', but I feel that most of the repertoire on this disc is not her cup of tea.
I very much love this kind of music, but it was hard to maintain my concentration. Ms Andueza's singing reminds me of Emma Kirkby's forays into Italian repertoire. It is all beautifully sung, but something essential is missing. Her voice seems to lack the necessary depth and dark colours. The canzonettas are done pretty well, and even Merula's lullaby comes off rather convincingly. However, in the Lamento della Maddalena and also the pieces by Sances and Ferrari she fails to explore the depth of the emotions which they express. There are dynamic contrasts, but I haven't heard a true messa di voce, an essential element in the performance of this repertoire. Ferrari's cantata offers many opportunities to use it. There is also far too little ornamentation, which isn't only a way to bring variation into a piece but is also at the service of expression. Ms Andueza is too strict in her treatment of rhythm: she should have taken more freedom which is an essential element of the 17th-century ideal of recitar cantando. Her singing is too far away from that ideal.
While listening I once again admired the way composers set the texts to music. I also appreciated the singing and playing of these artists as such. However, these interpretations never touched me, I never felt emotionally involved. That is pretty disastrous, because that is what this music is all about.
Johan van Veen (© 2014)
Jesús Fernández Baena