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Francesca CAMPANA (c1610 - 1665): Arie a una, due, e tre voci

Ricercare Antico
Dir: Francesco Tomasi

rec: March 24 - 28, 2019, Albano Laziale/Lazio, Seminario Vesxovile (Sala teatro)
Brilliant Classics - 96008 ( 2021) (64'31")
Liner-notes: E/IT; no lyrics
Cover, track-list & booklet

Francesca CAMPANA: Amor se questa fera Nemica de gl'amanti; gi rotto lo strale; Fanciulla vezzosa Dhe dimmi perch; Nobil piaga al mio Cor; O cervetta che veloce; O mio Cor tu che malsaggio; Occhi belli Occhi amati; Perfida gia m'ingannasti Hor tanto basti [02:55] Quando ascoltare Che col suo Volto [03:11] S'io ti guardo ti sdegni [03:57] Semplicetto Augellin che mentre canti - Che ove il mondo superbo h gl'abitanti - Misero, tu non sai quanti lacciuoli - Vattene via dalle mentite scorte; Voi luci altere; Francesco LAMBARDI (1587-1642): Gagliarda; Giovanni DE MACQUE (1548-1614): Partite sopra Ruggiero; Prima Gagliarda; RINALDO DELL'ARPA (?-1603): Canzon; Scipione STELLA (1558/59-1622): Partite sopra la Romanesca; Ippolito TARTAGLINO (c1539-c1582): Canzona sopra Susanna

Vittoria Giacobazzi, soprano; Lila Hajosi, mezzo-soprano; Riccardo Pisani, tenor; Enrico Correggia, bass
Serena Bellini, recorder; Paolo Perrone, violin; Matteo Coticoni, violone; Flora Papadopoulos, harp; Giovanni Bellini, archlute, theorbo; Francesco Tomasi, theorbo, guitar

Female composers were a rare phenomenon in the 17th century. There were some, but most of them were nuns, who wrote music for performance in their own monastery. Only a few acted at the public music scene. The best-known of them today is Barbara Strozzi, and recently Francesca Caccini, the daughter of Giulio, has received quite some attention. The composer whose music is the subject of the present disc is hardly known. Francesca Campana has received some attention as she was the sister-in-law of one of the great masters of her time, Luigi Rossi. Like he, she lived and worked in Rome.

She was educated at the keyboard, and earned some fame as a player of the spinet. She was also a singer, and a contemporary stated about her that "she is a master in art, because she composes by herself, sings like an angel (although the most delicate ones oppose the hoarseness of her voice (...)), she plays divinely the spinet (...)". The first two of her compositions were songs which were included in an anthology of fifteen vocal pieces by fourteen composers; she was the only one who was represented with two pieces. These are her only extant compositions apart from the collection which is recorded by Ricercare Antico, and one may wonder why the performers did not include them. The playing time leaves enough space for two further songs.

The Arie a una, due, e tre voci were published in 1629; a second collection, consisting of madrigals, was published in 1630, but has been lost. The 1629 edition comprises 15 arias of different complexion. Most of them are strophic, as was common at the time. However, some are through-composed. The most remarkable of them are the first four arias, which are allocated here to the tracks 10 to 13. These are settings of a single sonnet, each of whose four sections is an independent aria, with music of its own. Here they are performed by the same singer, underlining that they belong together, as far as the text is concerned.

Unfortunately the reader has to guess what these four arias and all the others are about, as the booklet omits the lyrics. These arias are not available on-line, and that makes it hard to find out how exactly they are written. That is all the more regrettable, as the way they are performed raises some questions. The most important of them is why the performers decided to include melody instruments here. Most of the arias open with a passage for a melody instrument - recorder or violin - and only after a while the voice enters. The instruments sometimes also play between the stanzas, as a kind of ritornello, and in the last sections they sometimes play colla voce or with additional diminutions. Given that the title seems not to indicate the participation of instruments, I can't see any reason for this practice. Some may like it as an expression of creativity, but I find it rather disturbing. In the first vocal item, gi rotto lo strale, the violone plays pizzicato, and again I can't see any reason for that. I also wonder whether it is in line with the intentions of the composer or the way her arias were performed, that more than a single keyboard or plucked instrument should be used in the basso continuo. It is rather odd that the penultimate piece, Amor se questa fera Nemica de gl'amanti, ends by being faded out. And then the last piece seems to have been recorded in a different acoustic. Here it sounds like a swimming pool, whereas in the other items the sound is much more intimate. Maybe this is a way to underline that this piece is different from the rest, as here Campana returns to the past, so to speak, by writing a madrigal for three voices (SSB) without accompaniment. However, the way it has been done here seems a mistake.

It is one of the relatively few pieces for more than one voice. The other items of this kind, for two high voices and with bass, are done well, as the voices blend nicely. Overall, the singing is rather good, although Lila Hajosi uses a bit too much vibrato. All four singers have nice voices, and the players are also doing a fine job. It is just that the whole approach to these arias does not particularly convince me, and the way the concept has been practised, does not make me very happy. The arias are separated by instrumental pieces, which are mostly not performed in their original scoring: it seems that all of them were originally intended for keyboard, but here they are performed with an instrumental ensemble. Sometimes that works well, but generally I strongly prefer the original scoring.

The initiative to bring these arias to our attention is praiseworthy. One cannot appreciate enough any attempt to fill in the white spots on the map of music history. However, in this case I had wished a performance that is more convincing, both musically and with regard to performance practice.

Johan van Veen ( 2023)

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