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"Il Cembalo di Partenope - A Renaissance Harpsichord Tale"

Catalina Vicens, harpsichord

rec: 2015, Vermillion, SD, National Music Museum
Carpe Diem Records - CD-16312 (© 2017) (66'35")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Antonio DE CABEZÓN c1510-1566): Obra sobre cantus firmus; Vincenzo CAPIROLA (1474-after 1548): La villanella [3]; Marchetto CARA (c1465-1525): Cantai mentre nel core [2]; Per dolor mi bagno el viso (attr) [2]; Marco Antonio CAVAZZONI (c1490-c1560): Madame vous aves mon cuor [4]; Plus ne regres (after Josquin) [4]; Recercada di mâ ca in bologna; Joan Ambrosio DALZA (fl 1508): Calata ala spagnola [1]; Pavana alla ferrarese [1]; Fabrizio DENTICE (c1539-1581): Volta de spagna [6]; Jacopo FOGLIANO (1468-1548): Ricerchare de Jacobo fogliano; RANIER (fl early 16th C): Me lassera tu mo [2]; Bartolomeo TROMBONCINO (1470-after 1534): Amor quando fioriva mia speme [2]; Che farala che dirala [2]; Poi che volse la mia stella [5]; Stavasi amor [2]; Antonio VALENTE (fl 1565-1580): Chi la dirra (after Willaert) [5]; Fantasia del primer tono [5]; Gagliarda napolitana [5]; Recercata del primo tono [5]; Sortemplus disminuita (after De Monte) [5]; Claudio Maria VEGGIO (c1510-after 1543): Recercada per b quadro del primo tono; Tant que vivray (after Sermisy); Vi' (?Villano) recercada (attr)

Sources: [1] Joan Ambrosio Dalza, Intabulatura de lauto, 1508; [2] Andrea Antico, Frottole intabulate da sonare organi, 1517; [3] Capirola Lutebook, c1517; [4] Marco Antonio Cavazzoni, Recerchari, motetti, canzoni ... libro primo, 1523; [5] Antonio Valente, Intavolatura de cimbalo, 1576; [6] Philippi Hainhofer Lautenbücher, 1603-1604

The use of historical instruments is one of the main features of historical performance practice. However, in recordings and on the stage it is mostly copies, which are used. Authentic historical instruments are either not in playable condition or are too precious to transport. Only some violinists are blessed with the possession of a real historical instrument, whereas most of their colleagues have to content themselves with copies of instruments preserved in museums.

It is easy to understand the excitement of someone like Catalina Vicens, when she was offered the opportunity to make a recording on what is assumed to be the oldest playable harpsichord. It is an instrument by an unknown builder from Naples and is thought to date from around 1525. It is now preserved in the National Music Museum of Vermillion in South Dakota, USA. In the booklet John Koster, Professor Emeritus of Music at the University of South Dakota, states that this instrument contributes to a more differentiated picture of harpsichord building in Italy. In the 17th century most harpsichords had two 8' stops, partly inspired by the need to play the basso continuo. Earlier instruments had only one 8' register; larger instruments sometimes had also a 4' stop. Harpsichords were already built in Naples in the 15th century and were exported to other parts of Italy, such as Rome. The instrument featured in this recording was restored by removing the second 8' register which had been added in the 17th century. It was also restrung and a new set of jacks was installed. "The instrument was presumably intended to be strung in brass and tuned to the pitch known as tutto punto, roughly equivalent to the modern a1 = 440 hz."

Ms Vicens had to decide which repertoire to play. Very little harpsichord music was published in the 16th century. Her starting point was Antonio Valente, who was blind from his childhood and worked in Naples as an organist. Two collections of keyboard music is all what he has left. The first, the Intavolatura di cimbalo, was printed in 1576 and contains various forms of keyboard music, which were in vogue at the time. On the one hand there are one fantasia and six recercate of a contrapuntal nature, on the other hand the collection contains dances, all but in name gagliardas. In these the left hand mainly plays chords whereas the right hand plays figural passages.

From this collection she worked her way backwards to the time the harpsichord was built, as she puts it in the booklet. As the tracklist shows, the majority of the pieces she selected are arrangements of vocal works, especially frottolas. 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. 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. One of the main collections of frottolas arranged for keyboard was published by Andrea Antico in 1517: Frottole Intabulate da Sonare. It probably was the very first specimen of printed keyboard music in Europe. There is some uncertainly about the authorship of these arrangements. The title-page seems to suggest that they were from the pen of Antico himself as he is depicted sitting at a harpsichord. But Glen Wilson, in the liner-notes to his complete recording of this collection, has strong doubts. The harpsichord at the title-page is particularly interesting. John Koster writes that this instrument is very similar to the one featured in this recording.

The programme very much reflects what was popular during the 16th century, in Naples, but also elsewhere. The track-list includes the names of Marchetto Cara and Bartolomeo Tromboncino. They were the main composers of frottolas. Both worked at the court of the Este family in Mantua. In addition we have some chansons here, for instance by Josquin Desprez (Plusieurs regretz), Philippus de Monte (Sortez mes pleurs) and by Claudin de Sermisy; his Tant que vivray is still one of the best-known chansons of the renaissance. These are played in intavolations by several composers. Antonio Valente is one of them. Marco Antonio Cavazzoni was one of the main keyboard players of his time who worked in several towns, among them Venice. The pieces played here are taken from his only printed collection of keyboard works, which dates from 1523 and was published in Venice. Claudio Maria Veggio seems to have worked mostly in Piacenza, but little is known about him. He published a collection of madrigals, but his keyboard music has only survived in manuscript.

Catalina Vicens not only selected keyboard works, but also turned to lute music. The lute was a popular instrument in the renaissance, and lutenists not only played original music, such as dances, but also arrangements of frottolas, chansons and madrigals, probably mostly improvised. Vincenzo Capirola was a nobleman and lutenist from Brescia, Juan Ambrosio Dalza was from Milan and was responsible for the fourth book of lute intavolations which was printed by Petrucci in Venice in 1508. Playing lute music on keyboard instruments was common practice. In the 16th and 17th centuries various collections of music were printed which mentioned keyboard, lute and harp as alternatives on the title-page.

Obviously the main attraction of this disc is the harpsichord. It is a splendid instrument, which is excellently suited for the repertoire which Catalina Vicens selected. Although the programme includes many intavolations, there is much variety in the way the different composers have treated the original material. That comes well to the fore in Catalina Vicens's performance. She delivers differentiated interpretations and is equally convincing in the more demanding pieces as in the rather simple arrangements and dances.

Instrument, music and performance are a happy combination here and therefore no lover of keyboard music should miss this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Catalina Vicens

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