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"Orpheus - Songs, Arias & Madrigals"

Julian Prégardien, tenor
Teatro del mondo
Dir: Andreas Küppers

rec: Sept 8 - 11, 2016, Bremen, Radio Bremen (Sendesaal)
CPO - 555 168-2 (© 2018) (72'50")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

[in order of appearance]
[Orpheus] Robert JOHNSON (1582-1633): Orpheus I am; Antonio DRAGHI (1634-1700): La lira d'Orfeo (Ma, divertim'io voglio); Maurice GREEN (1686-1755): Orpheus with his lute; William BYRD (1543-1623): Come woeful Orpheus [1]; Gabriel VOIGTLÄNDER (1596-1643): Als Orpheus schlug sein Instrument [9]
[Euridice] Jacopo PERI (1561-1633): L'Euridice (Antri ch'a miei lamenti); Johann Erasmus KINDERMANN (1616-1655): Nachtklag [8]; Jacopo PERI: Al fonte, al prato [6]; Francesco RASI (1574-1621): Filli mia [3]; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): L'Orfeo (Vi ricorda ò boschi ombrosi)
[Euridice's death] Luigi ROSSI (1597-1653): Orfeo (Les pleurs d'Orphée ayant perdu sa femme); Thomas CAMPION (1567-1620): Break now my heart [5]; Oft have I sigh'd [5]; Jacopo PERI: L'Euridice (Non piango); Johann Erasmus KINDERMANN: Jetzund kommt die Nacht herbei [8]
[In the Underworld] anon (?FERDINANDO DE MEDICI, 1673-1713): Passacagli; Henry PURCELL (1659-1695): The Prophetess, or The History of Dioclesian (Z 627) (Charon the peaceful shade invites); Domenico BELLI (1550-1627): Orfeo dolente (Numi d'Abisso); Giovanni Maria TRABACI (1575-1647): Toccata II [4]; Claudio MONTEVERDI: L'Orfeo (Qual honor)
[The way back] Antoine FRANCISQUE (1570-1605): Prélude 4 [2]; Johann Erasmus KINDERMANN: Ach Liebste, lass uns eilen [8]; Jacopo PERI: L'Euridice (Gioite al canto mio); Johann STEFFENS (1560-1616): Orpheus die Harfen schlug so fein [7]; Antonio DRAGHI: La lira d'Orfeo (Al suon di questa lira)
[The end] Johann Erasmus KINDERMANN: Wann sich der werte Gast [8]; anon: The Indian Nightingale [10]

Sources: [1] William Byrd, Psalmes, Sonets and Songs, 1588; [2] Antoine Francisque, Le trésor d'Orphée: livre de tablature de luth, 1600; [3] Francesco Rasi, Madrigali di diversi autori, 1610; [4] Giovanni Maria Trabaci, Il secondo libro de ricercate & altri varij capricci, 1615; [5] Thomas Campion, The Third and Fourth Booke of Ayres, ?1617; [6] Jacopo Peri, Le varie musiche ... con alcune spirituali in ultimo, 1619; [7] Johann Steffens, Newe teutsche weltliche Madrigalia und Balletten, 1619; [8] Johann Erasmus Kindermann, Opitianischer Orpheus, das ist Musicalischer Ergetzligkeiten, 1642; [9] Gabriel Voigtländer, Erster Theil Allerhand Oden und Lieder, 16428; [10] John Walsh, ed., The Bird Fancyer's Delight, or Choice Observations And Directions Concerning the Teaching of all sorts of Singing Birds after the Flagelet and Flute, c1715

Barbara Heindlmeier, recorder, cornett; Kerstin Fahr, recorder, violin; Christian Heim, recorder, viola da gamba, violone; Hongxia Cui, violin; Marthe Perl, viola da gamba, lirone; Margit Übellacker, salterio; Flora Papadopoulos, harp; Toshinori Ozaki, lute, theorbo, guitar; Vanessa Heimisch, lute, theorbo, guitar, orpharion; Andreas Küppers, harpsichord, lute-harpsichord, organ

In the course of history the myth of Orpheus has exerted a strong appeal on musicians and composers, as he was the symbol of the power of music. Many operas, cantatas, songs and instrumental pieces were inspired by this singer, who with his lyre was able to convince the powers of the Underworld to release his beloved Euridice. This latter aspect added to the fascination. Most secular music was about love, and what could be a stronger demonstration of love than Orpheus descending into the Underworld to bring Euridice back to the world of the living?

Not only were many pieces devoted to this particular story, the name of Orpheus also appeared on the title pages of collections of music, such as Orpheus Britannicus, an anthology of songs by Henry Purcell that was published after his death. Sometimes singers or composers were called 'Orpheus' as a token of appreciation, such as Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, who was given the name of 'Orpheus of Amsterdam'.

Julian Prégardien and the ensemble Teatro del mondo put together a most interesting programme of pieces written in the 17th century by composers from England, Germany and Italy, which have been ordered in such a way that they follow the story of Orpheus and Euridice. The first two sections are devoted to the two respective characters.

First: Orpheus. Robert Johnson was one of the main composers for the lute of his time. Orpheus I am is one of his best-known songs: "Orpheus I am, come from the deeps below, to thee, fond man, the plagues of love to show". This song is also known as The mad lover. Antonio Draghi was from Rimini, but worked for most of his life at the imperial court in Vienna. La lira di Orfeo is a trattenimento musicale from 1683; several extracts are included in this programme. The first extract, 'Ma, divertirmi lo voglio', descibes how wild beasts "are soothed and stop to listen" to Orpheus's playing. Maurice Greene is the only composer from a later time in the programme. In Orpheus with his lute, the singer is accompanied by a recorder. One of the interesting and important features of this recording is the inclusion of songs by German composers of the 17th century, such as Gabriel Voigtländer with his song Als Orpheus schlug sein Instrument: "When Orpheus played his instrument, and sang so sweetly to its music, he moved all the animals so quick, and the forests, stones and streams".

The second section is devoted to Euridice, and starts with an extract from Jacopo Peri's opera, one of the first of this genre ever written. The music about Euridice inevitably focuses on her tragic fate. Here we meet another German composer, Johann Erasmus Kindermann. His Nachtklag is an example of a song, which is not specifically connected to the subject of this disc, but whose text fits into it. It ends with the words "I firmly keep to you alone with faith that can't ever falter". Its inclusion was also inspired by the fact that it is part of a collection of songs which bears the title Opitianischer Orpheus. Peri's song Al fonte, al prato expresses the hope for a turn for the better. His contemporary Francesco Rasi composed a love song about Phyllis, the name of a shepherdess which would figure in so many cantatas of the baroque period. This section ends with an extract from the most famous opera on Orpheus and Euridice, L'Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi.

Euridice's death is then the subject of the third section, which opens with an instrumental piece from Luigi Rossi's Orfeo. Next follow two songs by Thomas Campion, one of the main composers of lute songs from Dowland's time. Break now my heart, and dye and Oft have I sigh'd are not in any way connected to Euridice's death, but their inclusion is very appropriate as they express the desperation of an unhappy lover. After another extract from Peri's L'Euridice, we get a further song by Kindermann, Jetzund kommt die Nacht herbei: "Now the night comes this way, and beasts and men are free. The repose they desire begins, but my grief comes here for me".

"In the Underworld", the fourth chapter, includes a song by Purcell which is part of the collection Orpheus Britannicus and was originally intended for the semi-opera The Prophetess, or The History of Dioclesian. It is about Charon, the ferryman of Hades, who carries souls across the rivers Styx and Acheron that divided the world of the living from the world of the dead. 'Numi d'Abisso' is a longer fragment from Orfeo dolente, a sequence of five intermedi from 1616, written for carnival in Florence by Domenico Belli. It ends with the plea: "Have pity on my torment, gods of Hades". This section closes with another extract from Monteverdi's L'Orfeo.

The fifth chapter is about "the way back". It opens with a piece for lute by the only French composer in the programme, Antoine Francisque, which is taken from his only extant collection of music, entitled Le trésor d'Orphée. Another song by Kindermann follows, Ach Liebste, lass uns eilen: "Ah, dearest, let's be quick, we have time, dwelling will harm both of us". Again we get here extracts from the stage works by Peri and Draghi.

The disc closes with a section, called "The End". It is about the death of Orpheus. "After his last farewell to Eurydice, he was torn to pieces by Thracian women but continued to live. Vergil narrates: "But even now, as the Oeagrian Hebrus bore away his head, torn from his marble-white neck, in the swirling flood, his voice and cold tongue continued to call, 'Eurydice! Ah, poor Eurydice!' As his life fled him, he called, 'Eurydice!' and the banks echoed all along the river." According to legend, nightingales sang at his grave." (booklet) Here we get another song by Kindermann, Wann sich der werte Gast. The last stanza reads: "But if you could arrange to be present when the sun rises and I could do the same in the evening when Hesperus shines, then nothing will separate us, my heart will remain yours, in good fortune and in danger, your heart will remain mine." The disc appropriately ends with an anonymous piece for recorder, The Indian Nightingale.

It brings to a close a programme which includes quite a number of unfamiliar items, sometimes by composers who are hardly known. The inclusion of pieces by Voigtländer and Kindermann is particularly important, as German secular vocal music of the 17th century is severely underexposed and badly represented on disc. This kind of repertoire deserves much more attention, and Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo may be the perfect forces to explore it.

I can't praise Prégardien's performances enough. He has a lovely voice and shows a great insight into the character of the repertoire he and his colleagues have selected. In every piece he hits the nail on the head. In the Italian items he shows his mastery of the art of recitar cantando. In Purcell his performance perfectly demonstrates the composer's melodic gifts. It is notable that in the English lute songs he makes a clear distinction between those by Campion, which are written in the stile antico, and Robert Johnson's Orpheus I am, where the influence of the Italian style is evident. Especially the Italian items are often quite dramatic, and that comes perfectly off here. This feature is effectively reinforced by the instrumental ensemble, which contributes some fine performances of the instrumental pieces.

In short, this is a superb disc which invites to repeated listening.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Julian Prégardien
Teatro del mondo

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