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"Co'l dolce suono"

Ulrike Hofbauer, soprano
ensemble arcimboldo
Dir: Thilo Hirsch

rec: Feb 21 - 22 & July 5 - 6, 2017, Riehen (CH), Landgasthof Riehen
Audite - 97.731 (© 2018) (58'22")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Jacques ARCADELT (c1507-1568): Il bianco e dolce cigno (arr Anton Francesco DONI (1513-1574)) [7]; O felici occhi miei [2]; O felici occhi miei (arr Diego ORTIZ (c1510-c1570)) [10]; Quando co'l dolce suono [2]; Jachet DE BERCHEM (c1505-c1565): O amorose mamelle [3]; Giacomo FOGLIANO (1468-1548): A la mia grave pen [11]; Io vorrei Dio d'amore [6]; Recercada; Silvestro GANASSI (1492-c1565): Madrigal [6]; Recercar I [6]; Recercar II [6]; Recerchar I [5]; Recerchar III [5]; Recerchar IV [5]; Francesco DE LAYOLLE (1492-1540): Lasciar' il velo [14]; Diego ORTIZ (c1510-c1570): Recercada VIII [10]; Giulio SEGNI (1498-1561): Ricercare XV [4]; Tiento 4° tono [12] (Ricercar XI [4]); Enrìquez DE VALDERRÁBANO (c1500-1557): Pavana ternera [9]; Adrian WILLAERT (c1490-1562): Amor mi fa morire [1]; Passa la nave [13]; Ricercar X [4]; Un giorno mi pregò una vedovella [8]

Sources: [1] Andrea Antico & Ottaviano Scotto, ed., Il secondo Libro de Madrigali di Verdelotto, 1537; [2] Jacques Arcadelt, Il primo libro de madrigali, 1539; [3] Girolamo Scotto, ed., Le dotte, et eccellente compositioni de i madrigali a cinque voci da diversi perfettissimi musici fatte. Novamente raccolte, 1540; [4] Giulio Segni, ed., Musica Nova, 1540; Silvestro Ganassi, [5] Regola Rubertina, Regola che insegna sonar de viola d'archo, 1542; [6] Lettione Seconda pur della Prattica di Sonare il Violone d'Arco da Tasti, 1543; [7] Anton Francesco Doni, Dialogo della musica, 1544; [8] Adrian Willaert, Canzone villanesche all napolitana, 1545; [9] Enrìquez de Valderrábano, Silva de Sirenas, 1547; [10] Diego Ortiz, Tratado de Glosas, 1553; [11] Constanzo Festa, Primo libro di madrigali, 1556; [12] Luis Venegas de Henestrosa, Libro de cifra nueva para tecla, harpa y vihuela, 1557; [13] Adrian Willaert, Musica nova, 1559; [14] Giovanni Camillo Maffei, Delle lettere, 1562

Andreas Böhlen, recorder; Félix Verry, renaissance violin; Thilo Hirsch, viola da gamba, vihuela de arco; Caroline Ritchie, viola da gamba; Jessica Horsley, viola da gamba, violone; Julian Behr, lute, vihuela da mano

It is quite remarkable that recently three different discs have been released with repertoire of the 16th century, which focus on the art of diminution, and that in all three the figure of Silvestro Ganassi plays a key role. He was not only active as a player of several instruments, he was also a composer. His entire output comprises three treatises, of which the first, Opera intitulata Fontegara, first published in Venice in 1535, is the most important. It is about the art of diminution, which Ganassi defined as "an ornament for counterpoint". His importance is summed up in New Grove thus: "Ganassi’s volumes should be regarded as the starting point for any serious study of 16th-century performing practice, for together they give the most extended and most complete statement on the subject and reveal the high level of achievement the instrumentalists of the time had reached." From that angle the interest in his instructions and the attempts to put them into practice are well deserved.

On the first disc I reviewed the ensemble Doulce Mémoire performed madrigals by Philippe Verdelot and some of his contemporaries with diminutions according to the instructions of Ganassi. The voice and the recorder take central stage in these performances. William Dongois, with his ensemble Le Concert Brisé, used a wider variety of instruments: recorder, transverse flute, cornett and sackbut. Again a singer was involved, this time a baritone. In the last paragraph of my review I wrote: "One may regret that here wind instruments dominate (...). It would be nice to hear this kind of performance practice on string and plucked instruments or the keyboard." The present disc exactly offers what I was asking for, as far as the performance on string instruments is concerned. The Ensemble Arcimboldo performs 16th-century repertoire with diminutions on violin and viole da gamba. Like in Doulce Mémoire's recording, the upper part of some pieces is performed vocally by a soprano.

The repertoire on this disc is comparable with that in the two previous recordings, although it is mostly of a slightly later date. Whereas the other two discs focus on the first half of the 16th century, here the music dates from the mid-16th century, as the years of publication of some sources indicate. And as in La Doulce Mémoire's recording, a large part of the repertoire was written in Venice. That is no coincidence: it was not only one of Italy's main centres of music, it was also a centre of music printing, and it was the hometown of Silvestro Ganassi. However, there are also some aspects of these performances which are different from that of the previous discs.

Firstly, the performers don't confine themselves to Ganassi as a source of diminution technique. They have also been inspired by Diego Ortiz, whose treatise Tratado de Glosas includes a number of pieces in which the author's instructions are demonstrated, and Delle lettere, a far less well-known treatise by Giovanni Camillo Maffei, a singer and lutenist. It has the form of a letter to his employer, Giovanni di Capua, and includes instructions on how to embellish a song. Secondly, this recording is the result of a research project at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, dedicated to the transformation of string instruments in early 16th-century Italy. The viola da gamba came into existence in the late 15th century, and then quickly disseminated across Italy. This resulted in the publication of treatises on playing the instrument. Among them are the two other books by Ganassi, Regola rubertina (1542) and Lettione seconda (1543). For a performance of the repertoire of the early 16th century, the use of instruments of that time would be preferable. "Unfortunately, however, there is not one surviving larger stringed instrument from before the late sixteenth century which was not converted or repaired to such a great extent that it could serve as a model for a reconstruction", Thilo Hirsch states in his liner-notes in the booklet. For this recording the performers have made use of reconstructions of early 16th-century viols, for which the very precise illustrations in Ganassi's treatises were a good starting point. In his notes, Hirsch describes the process of reconstruction in more detail. The initial trials already revealed that the reconstructed instruments, which are lighter in sound, stronger in the upper register and somewhat weaker at the lower end of the tessitura, were perfectly suited for the performance of the repertoire as included here.

There is a third aspect which needs to be mentioned, and that concerns the role of the soprano. Music as is included here was performed in domestic surroundings, during meetings at the homes of the local upper class, such as the banker Neri Capponi, who had been banished from Florence, as was his cousin Ruberto Strozzi, to whom Ganassi dedicated his Regola rubertina. During such meetings, the attendants enjoyed the singing by Polissena Pecorina, described by the writer and musician Anton Francesco Doni as a cultured "gentil donna". "Of particular interest is his mention of the combination of 'un concento di violoni, et di voci', i.e. a harmonious interaction between several viols and voices, pointing towards an established performance practice of originally vocally conceived madrigals. Polissena Pecorina presumably sang the top line, whilst the remaining parts were played by viols." This is the way several madrigals are performed here. Several of them are from the pen of Adrian Willaert. Passa la nave is from his collection Musica Nova, which is of special interest, as it was dedicated to Polissena Pecorina. She is also mentioned in Jacques Arcadelt's madrigal Quando co'l dolce suono: "O wandering spirits, if you hear Pulisena, you would claim to hear a double Siren". It has rightly given this disc its title.

Ulrike Hofbauer takes the role of Polissena Pecorina, and she does so very well. I can't imagine a better voice to perform the vocal parts in this repertoire. She has a very agile voice, which allows her to deal with the virtuosic diminutions with impressive ease. Thanks to her excellent diction and articulation, the text is always perfectly intelligible. In this kind of repertoire the balance between the voice and the instruments is always a matter of concern. In English consort songs of the late 16th and early 17th centuries the voice is one of the instruments, and should not take the role of a soloist. That may be different here, considering the important role of Polissena Pecorina. In any case, here Ms Hofbauer is more of a soloist than just one of the voices in the ensemble.

The playing is of the highest level. It is very interesting and musically convincing to hear these viols in this kind of repertoire. The use of a renaissance violin is also of interest, as this instrument is seldom used in 16th century music. The booklet includes all the lyrics (unfortunately with only a German translation), including those of the madrigals that are performed instrumentally. That is a nice gesture and very useful to understand the character of the individual pieces.

If you have the two discs I mentioned above, you will certainly be interested in this disc as well, as it explores the same kind of repertoire from a slightly different angle. Together they offer a fascinating picture of a period in music history which is lesser known than it deserves to be. However, I am sure that anyone who is interested in music of the renaissance, will like what it on offer here. This disc is a substantial addition to the discography of renaissance music.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Ulrike Hofbauer
ensemble arcimboldo

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