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Francesco RASI (1574 - 1621): "La cetra di sette corde"

Riccardo Pisani, tenor
Ensemble Arte Musica
Dir: Francesco Cera

rec: July 9 - 12, 2020, Rome, Chiesa di Santi Giovanni Evangelista e Petronio dei Bolognesi
Arcana - A492 ( 2021) (68'41")
Liner-notes: E/F/IT; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

[in order of appearance] [Prologo: Lamento di Orfeo] Francesco RASI: Indarno Febo [2]; [Prima Corda: Occhi di Filli] anon: Aria di Fiorenza; Francesco RASI: Filli mia, Filli dolce [3]; Un guardo [3]; Occhi sempre sereni [3]; [Seconda Corda: Amorosi affeti] Giovanni DE MACQUE (c1550-1614): Canzona II; Francesco RASI: S'una fede amorosa [3]; Cor mio, mentre vi miro [2]; Hor ch'a noi rimena [2]; [Terza Corda: Sconsolati desiri] Giovanni Battista FERRINI (c1600-1674): Ballo di Mantova; Francesco RASI: Filli, deh mira [3]; Ahi, fuggitivo ben [2]; [Quarta Corda: L'amorosa pena] Giovanni Girolamo KAPSPERGER (c1580-1651): Toccata II [4]; Francesco RASI: Ne l'altrui braccia [3]; Deh, com'in un momento [2]; Schiera d'aspri martiri [2]; [Quinta Corda: L'ultimo addio] anon: Aria di Romanesca; Francesco RASI: Ferma Tersilla mia [3]; [Sesta Corda: L'antica fiamma] Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): Canzona detta La Tromboncina [5]; Francesco RASI: O rimembranza amara [2]; Sento l'antica fiamma [3]; Or so come da s [2]; [Settima Corda: Sapienza amorosa] Ascanio MAYONE (c1570-1627): Toccata IV [1]; Francesco RASI: O pira, o chiara stelle [3]; [Epilogo] Francesco RASI: O che felice giorno [2]

Sources: [1] Ascanio Mayone, Primo libro di diversi capricci per sonare, 1603; Francesco Rasi, [2] Vaghezze di musica di Francesco Rasi aretino, 1608; [3] Madrigali di diversi autori posti in musica dal S. Francesco Rasi, 1610; [4] Giovanni Girolamo Kapsperger, Libro terzo d'intavolatura di chitarrone con sue tavole per sonar sopra la parte, 1626; [5] Girolamo Frescobaldi, In partitura il primo libro delle canzoni, 1628

Silvia De Maria, viola da gamba, lirone; Chiara Granata, harp; Giovanni Bellini, theorbo, guitar; Francesco Cera, harpsichord

This is the second disc that is devoted to Francesco Rasi which has appeared recently. In 2020 Nave released another one on which Emiliano Gonzalez Toro and his ensemble I Gemelli perform songs that were written either by him or for him ("Soleil noir - Arie da e per Francesco Rasi"). At least one older disc paid attention to this singer, composer and poet who played such an important role in Italian music life around 1600 ("La Voce di Orfeo - Gli amori di Francesco Rasi 1574-1621"). There is a major difference between these releases: the oldest of the three includes just four pieces from Rasi's own pen, whereas Toro performed six. The latest disc, to be reviewed here, substantially increases the Rasi discography: ten of the eighteen items appear on disc for the first time.

Rasi has become mainly known for his role in the first performance of Claudio Monteverdi's opera L'Orfeo, in which he sang the title role. He belonged to a family from the high echelons of society, which were later to serve the Medici and Gonzaga courts. Francesco studied at Pisa university and became a pupil of Giulio Caccini in 1594. He was not only educated as a singer, but also at the chitarrone, and he may have regularly accompanied himself. At the end of the century he travelled to Ferrara, Venice, Naples and Poland. In 1598 he entered the service of the Gonzagas in Mantua, where he became a colleague of Monteverdi. Here he interpreted the role of Orpheus in Monteverdi's opera in 1607. Before that he also participated in performances of other operas which take a key role in music history, such as Jacopo Peri's Euridice and Caccini's Il rapimento di Cefalo. Another major role was that of Apollo in Marco da Gagliano's La Dafne in 1608. In that same year he participated in Monteverdi's (now lost) opera Arianna. During his career he travelled through Italy, but also visited the Low Countries, Prague and Salzburg. In 1610 he was sentenced in Tuscany to be hung, drawn and quartered for the murder of his stepmother's servant. But his reputation was such that he got away with it, thanks in particular to the protection of the Gonzagas who let him flee to Turin.

Rasi's oeuvre comprises two collections of songs, all but two for tenor (his own voice type), printed in 1608 and 1610 respectively. Another collection has survived in manuscript, Musica da camera et chiesa, which dates from 1612 and was dedicated to the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. They represent the first pieces in the monodic style written above the Alps. The present disc offers a selection from his two books of songs, and in addition we get instrumental pieces by contemporaries.

Rasi was not only a composer, but also a poet, and a number of songs are settings of texts of his own. The performers wanted to bring together these two sides of Rasi, and therefore they selected a number of songs on Rasi's own texts. It also motivated them to order the programme in a particular way. In the booklet, Riccardo Pisani writes: "In order to highlight this dual aspect of Rasi's work, we have drawn inspiration from his literary output, and particularly from his poetic anthology La Cetra di Sette Corde (The Kithara of Seven Strings), a work divided into seven distinct parts. Each 'string' is dedicated to a prominent person of his age and contains panegyrics, fables written to be set to music, and other poems. The image of the kithara stands therefore as a metaphor for our recording project, as if the sound of each vibrating string were to resonate with a specific affect. The seven strings, to quote Rasi himself, penetrate the heart and interconnect in an ideal loving relationship evoked in poetic language bearing the familiar stylistic features of Petrarchism".

The songs are all in monodic style, but can be divided into two formal types: on the one hand the metrically free madrigale, and on the other hand the more strict strophic aria. The latter form includes a number of stanzas which are sung to the same music, but some are of the type known as 'strophic variations', in which "the sections of text are freely sung over conventional bass formulas (like those of the Ballo di Mantova, Aria di Fiorenza and Romanesca), which are repeated for every section" (booklet). An example is Ahi, fuggitivo ben which is based on the Ruggiero, a then common basso ostinato. A special case is Hor ch'a noi rimena - which Frescobaldi took for his Capriccio sopra l'aria Or che noi rimena - as this is a "French air turned into Italian", according to the printed edition of 1608. The original is the anonymous chanson En m'en revenant de sainct Nicolas, included in a collection of polyphonic airs de cour, published in Paris in 1597. It was during his journey to the Low Countries, with among others Monteverdi, that he became acquainted with French music.

Only recently I reviewed another recording of Riccardo Pisani, with songs by Rasi's teacher Caccini. I like his voice - and here he is even better than at that disc - but the issues are the same: his singing is too much legato and not declamatory enough, he is too economical in his ornamentation and his performances lack in dynamic differentiation. He is at his best at the lower end of the dynamic range. There is some fine and subtle singing at the end of some songs, such as in Cor mio, mentre vi miro, which ends with the phrase "and, once born, through you dies". Ferma Tersilla mia ends with the words "and there Tirsi collapsed with a sigh", which is sung with great sensitivity. In general, however, I prefer the interpretation of Emiliano Gonzalez Toro and especially Furio Zanasi, whose singing is more in line with the monodic ideal of recitar cantando.

The Ensemble Arte Musica delivers excellent accompaniment and its members contribute some fine specimens of instrumental music of the time.

Despite my reservations, this disc is an important contribution to our knowledge of the art of Francesco Rasi, one of the truly great singers of the early baroque period and, as his songs demonstrate, a fine composer in his own right.

Johan van Veen ( 2022)

Relevant links:

Riccardo Pisani
Ensemble Arte Musica

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