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Sigismondo D'INDIA (c1580 - 1629): "Musiche a una e due voci"

Ensemble Arte Musica
Dir: Francesco Cera

rec: August 30 - Sept 2, 2017, Laureana Cilento (Campania), Palazzo Cagnano
Brilliant Classics - 95634 (© 2018) (61'24")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list & booklet

Alla guerra d'amoreabcd [2]; Amico hai vintoad [4]; Com'è soave cosab [3]; Cruda Amarillib [1]; Donna, siam rei di morted [3]; Dove potrò mai gir tanto lontanoab [1]; Intenerite voi, lagrime miea [1]; La mia Filli crudelab [2]; Là, tra 'l sangue e le mortib [1]; O primavera gioventù dell'annod [1]; Occhi, convien morirea [3]; Occhi della mia vitacd [4]; Odi quel rosignoloc [4]; Or che il ciel e la terrab [3]; Tu mi lasci o cruda bellac [4]; Vorrei baciarti, o fillic [1]; Vostro fui, vostro sona [1]

Sources: [1] Le Musiche di Sigismondo d'India nobile palermitano da cantar solo, 1609; [2] Le Musiche a 2 voci di Sigismondo D'India, 1615; [3] Le Musiche del sig. Sigismondo D'India, 1618; [4] Le Musiche del Cavalier Sigismondo D'India a 1 et 2 voci, libro quarto, 1621

Lucia Napolia, Damiana Pintib, soprano; Andrés Montilla-Acureroc, Riccardo Pisanid, tenor; Silvia De Maria, viola da gamba, lirone; Francesco Tomasi, theorbo, guitar; Francesco Cera, harpsichord

Sigismondo d'India is one of those composers who is overshadowed by the towering figure of Claudio Monteverdi. Whereas every year one or more discs with music by the latter are released, the number of recordings of D'India's oeuvre is very limited. Over the years I have collected several of them, but right now only a few seem to be available, if we have to believe ArkivMusic. From that perspective, Dinko Fabris seems to be right, when he closes his liner-notes to the present recording with the words: "D'India the dramatist is still awaiting the recognition he truly deserves".

With this statement he points out one of the features of D'India as a composer of secular music. This comes to the fore, for instance, in the three-part madrigal Amico hai vinto, which is a setting of stanzas from Tarquato Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata, the same that Monteverdi later included in his Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. According to Fabris this is not the only evidence of "D'India's seeming to want to position himself as a composer with a propensity for music drama similar to that of Monteverdi". The composer himself proclaimed the originality and power of his 'manner', "with unusual intervals, passing with the greatest possible novelty from one chord to another, according to the changing sense of the words". He added that his style of composing had received a positive response from no less a figure than Giulio Caccini, the main promoter of the monodic style.

As D'India is relatively little known, some biographical information is needed to put him into his historical context. It is not known exactly where he was born. It has been generally assumed that he was from Palermo in Sicily, but more recent research seems to suggest that he was in fact from Naples, and born to a Palermo branch of the noble but impoverished D'India family. It seems certain that he spent his formative years in Naples and here he became acquainted with Carlo Gesualdo and his circle. This has clearly left its marks in his oeuvre. The Settimo libro de madrigali of 1624 includes a madrigal which is an obvious homage to Gesualdo. Between 1600 and 1610 D'India travelled across Italy, driven by the desire to "converse with intelligent men upon music". In the process, he visited some of the places where the monodic style had manifested itself. In 1611 D'India was appointed director of the chamber music at the court of Carlo Emanuele I, Duke of Savoy, in Turin. Here he remained until 1623. In 1624 he settled in Rome, where he enjoyed the protection of Cardinal Maurizio of Savoy, his former employer's son. Here he composed some sacred music. In 1626 he moved to the Este court in Modena, where he died in 1629.

D'India's extant oeuvre comprises a sacred drama, three collections of sacred music, seven books of madrigals, two of villanellas as well as a book with songs and balli. The latter and the two last books of madrigals include a basso continuo part, but previous collections of secular music are in the stile antico. The present disc is devoted to a series of five books which D'India published between 1609 and 1623 under the title Le Musiche, which include pieces for solo voice(s) and basso continuo. The pieces in the programme are taken from the books 1 to 4.

Among the poets whose texts D'India set to music, we find, alongside the above-mentioned Guarini, the equally famous Torquato Tasso, Giovanni Battista Marino and Ottavio Rinuccini. The most famous poet of the past, Francesco Petrarca, obviously could not been omitted either; he is represented by his well-known Or che il ciel e la terra.

The programme opens with a kind of battaglia, on a text by an anonymous poet: Alla guerra, alla guerra d'amore - "To the war of love". It is another specimen of D'India's theatrical style, like the above-mentioned scene from Guarini. It is effectively set for two voices by D'India. In this performance the two tenors and the two sopranos sing it in alternation, for which I can't find any justification. In the extract from Guarini's Gerusalemme liberata Francesco Cera has taken the same kind of freedom: it is scored for one voice and basso continuo, but here the words of Tancredi are sung by a tenor and those of Clorinda by a soprano. If that was D'India's intention, I assume that he would have indicated that it was for two voices rather than one. But as I don't have access to the score, I have to leave this an open question.

Listening to these pieces one notices several things. The theatrical features have already been mentioned. Other characteristics are an often experimental use of harmony (listen, for instance, to the closing lines of Cruda Amarilli) - and here one notices the influence of Gesualdo - and striking examples of text expression. This repertoire requires a mastery of the art of recitar cantando. Equally essential is the use of the messa di voce, as the texts express strong emotions. The performances of the Ensemble Arte Musica are not entirely satisfying as far as these aspects are concerned.

Three of the four singers use a slight vibrato, which is not really disturbing, but should be avoided in particular in this repertoire, in which the intelligibility of the text should be the main concern of the interpreters, as well as a precise intonation, which guarantees that the harmonic experiments come off to maximum effect. The exception here is Damiana Pinti; she has a lovely voice, and is in many respects the best performer of the four. In Cruda Amarilli she fully explores her dynamic capabilities in the interest of text expression. In this department her collegues are often disappointing, as they largely omit the use of the messa di voce. The same goes for the art of recitar cantando; too often the songs are too much sung rather than 'spoken'. The coloratura is not always technically immaculate (Odi quel rosignolo). There are some longer lines, which are sung without any ornamentation, which seems against common practice at the time. For reasons I can't quite figure out the first half of the programme is the least satisfying. When I was halfway listening to this disc I was pretty disappointed about the performances, but towards the end I heard several items which I really appreciated and enjoyed. Lastly, one particular feature in D'India's music is the sliding from one note to the other. Again, Damiana Pinti masters this technique better than the others (Là, tra 'l sangue e le morti).

This disc is not quite what I had hoped for, but it certainly should whet the appetite for D'India's music. Let's hope ensembles give him more attention than has been the case to date. His music is definitely worth it.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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