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"Dialogo d'Amore - Frottolas for Isabella d'Este"

Julie Roseta, Giulia Valentinib, soprano; Marcos García Gutiérrezc, baritone
Ensemble L'Amoroso Caccia
Dir: Fabio Antonio Falcone

rec: Sept 6 - 9, 2018, Avusy (CH), Église Saint Charles Borromée
Brilliant Classics - 95759 (© 2020) (64'31")
Liner-notes: E/I; no lyrics
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: Amor che fai sì altero?ab; Gazollo; La Delfina; La moretta; Marchetto CARA (c1465-1525): Cangia sperar, mia vogliab; Per dolor mi bagno il visoc; Tante volte, sì, sì,sìc; Johannes GALLUS (fl mid-16th C): Chiare, fresche e dolci aquec; Johannes LULINUS Venetus (fl early 16th C): Fuga ognun Amor protervoabc; Occhi miei lassi, acompagnate il core abc; Niccolò PATAVINO (?-1516): Un cavalier di Spagnaabc; Bartolomeo TROMBONCINO (1470-after 1534): Amor! che vuoi?ab Aqua, aqua; aiuto!bc; Che vol dir che così seteb; Facto son per affanni ombra sì oscurab; Su, su, leva, alza le cigliac; Zephyro spira e il bel tempo rimenab

Timea Nagy, recorder, cornett; Patricia Esteban, recorder, pipe & tabor, shawm, viola da gamba; Stéphanie Houillon, Pablo Garrido, viola da gamba; Xavier Marquis, shawm, dulcian; Francis Biggi, lute, colascione; Fabio Antonio Falcone, clavicytherium, virginal

The frottola was by far the most popular genre in Italy from roughly 1450 to 1530. It is a collective term for texts of various forms and character: a frottola could be, for instance, a canzona, a sonnet or a strambotto. Its origin is the practice of reciting poems to a musical accompaniment which was widespread in the mid-15th century. Poet, singer and performer were usually the same, and the accompaniment was mostly improvised. The practice of improvising ad lyram, as it was called, was even part of the pastime of the aristocracy: in particular Lorenzo de Medici in Florence greatly enjoyed it.

The centre of the composition and performance of frottolas was the court in Mantua, though. This was mainly due to the patronage of Isabella d'Este, who had a broad cultural interest and was musically educated, which allowed her to sing and to play instruments. She commissioned poets to supply her with verses which she then handed over to composers to be set to music. Especially interesting is the fact that these composers were all native Italians, rather than the representatives of the Franco-Flemish school. The largest part of the frottola repertoire was composed by Italians, and one of the most famous was Bartolomeo Tromboncino.

He grew up in Verona, where his father was a member of the town´s municipal wind ensemble. Tromboncino was educated as a sackbut player and probably became a member of the wind ensemble himself. Around 1489 he was in the service of Francesco II Gonzaga, but shortly after 1490 he became composer and lutenist to Isabella d'Este. It is likely that he accompanied Isabella when she sang her frottolas. She certainly will have sung some of his, as Tromboncino was the most important composer of such pieces: 170 are attributed to him. Another important contributor to the genre was Marchetto Cara who at the same time worked as lutenist at the court of Francesco II Gonzaga. He was also from Verona. He first served Francesco, and then, after Tromboncino's departure in 1505, also Isabella. More than 100 frottola's from his pen are known.

The lyrics of the frottola are not that important: the music came first. This explains that the texts were mostly not very sophisticated, and the authors are mostly anonymous. Most frottola are about love, but focus mainly on the humorous or frivolous side of it. What the texts of the frottolas included on the disc under review here are about, remains a mystery, as the booklet omits the lyrics; they are also not available on the Brilliant Classics website.

The collections of frottolas which were printed by Ottaviano Petrucci in Venice, bear witness to the poularity of the genre. In 1504/05 he published no less than three books with 180 frottolas in total. In 1509 and 1511 he printed two further collections, and in the 1510s his colleague Andrea Antico da Montona in Rome printed various books with frottolas as well. From which sources the frottolas on the programme of this disc are taken, is not mentioned in the booklet.

The performance practice of these pieces deserves special attention. Although they were usually printed in four parts, it was mostly only the upper part which was texted. The other voices can't even always be fitted to the text, and that suggests a performance with a solo voice and instruments. In 1520 Petrucci published a volume in which frottolas were printed in an arrangement for solo voice, with the two lower voices intabulated for the lute, with the alto being omitted. This could well be the effect of how many frottolas were actually performed. In this recording, the voices are accompanied by several instruments, which also contribute some instrumental items.

The booklet also omits any information about the composers. Whereas Tromboncino and Cara are rather well-known and are well represented on disc, the others are not. Little is known about Johannes Lulinus Venetus; the only extant works from his pen are seventeen frottolas which are included in one of Petrucci's editions. There is much uncertainty about the identity of Joannes Gallus, which is explained at length in New Grove. He is sometimes identified with a French composer with the name of Jean Lecocq. New Grove also only lists motets and chansons; pieces with an Italian text are not mentioned. Niccolò Patavino was for most of his life in the service of Lucrezia Borgia, daughter of Pope Alexander VI. He accompanied her to Ferrara for her wedding in January 1502 to Alfonso I d'Este, oldest son of Duke Ercole I d'Este. Seventeen frottolas from his pen were included in printed editions by Petrucci.

The frottolas are given very fine performances by Giulia Valentini, Julie Roset and Marcos García Gutiérrez. Julie Roset has made a name for herself in some recent recordings, and proves once again to be a real star on the early music scene. The other two I only know from a previous disc of this ensemble, devoted to the keyboard works of Antonio Valente. On that disc, their contributions were very limited, and here they show their credentials as performers of early vocal music. The instrumentalists do a fine job as well.

Musically speaking this disc leaves nothing to be desired. That makes it all the more regrettable that the production has serious shortcomings. I already mentioned the lack of lyrics and reference to the sources as well as the omission of any information about the composers. In addition, the liner-notes are in Italian and in English, but the latter are much shorter than the original Italian text. Everything Francis Biggi writes about aspects of performance practice has not been translated. This is really bad and not what one expects from a Brilliant Classics production.

Even so, I would reocmmend this disc because of the interesting and musically rewarding repertoire and the fine performances.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

L'Amorosa Caccia

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