musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Canzone e Cantate"

Franco Fagioli, alto; Marco Frezzato, cello; Luca Pianca, lute; Jrg Halubek, harpsichord

rec: June 14 - 19, 2010, Baden-Baden, Hans-Rosbaud-Studio
Carus - 83.361 ( 2010) (60'32")

anon: Corrante; Benedetto FERRARI (c1603-1681): Amanti io vi so dire [5]; Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): A miei pianti [3]; Se l'aura spira [2]; Francesco GEMINIANI (1687-1762): Sonata for cello and bc in a minor, op. 5,6; George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Aure soavi e lieti (HWV 84); Dolc' pur d'amor l'affanno (HWV 109); Suite in G (HWV 450): Preludio; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Ecco di dolci raggi [4]; Si dolce 'l tormento [1]; Giovanni PAISIELLO (1740-1816): L'amor contrastato, opera: Variazioni sull'aria Nel cor pi non mi sento!; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Pianti, sospiri a dimandar mercede (RV 676)

Sources: [1] C. Milanuzzi (ed), Quarto scherzo delle ariose vaghezze, 1624; Girolamo Frescobaldi, [2] Primo libro d'arie musicali per cantarsi, 1630; [3] Secondo libro d'arie musicali per cantarsi, 1630; [4] Claudio Monteverdi, Scherzi musicali, 1632; [5] Benedetto Ferrari, Musiche e poesie varie, libro terzo, 1641;

Although all music on this disc is Italian in character, and goes from the early 17th to the late 18th century, its subject is not so much the way Italian vocal music has developed, but rather the interpreter. Franco Fagioli's name dominates the front of this disc, and then one immediately senses something is wrong. In a way it is a matter of good luck that the whole programme doesn't consist only of baroque evergreens. Even so, several pieces are quite familiar and turn up too often in vocal recitals like this. The very first item on the programme is a good example: Se l'aura spira by Girolamo Frescobaldi is by far his best-known vocal composition. Fortunately we also get A miei pianti by the same composer, but there is much more in his vocal oeuvre, and Franco Fagioli could easily have chosen two little-known arias. Claudio Monteverdi's Si dolce 'l tormento is one of his most familiar pieces. And the cantata Dolc' pur d'amor l'affanno by Handel is one of his best-known chamber cantatas.

The inclusion of quite familiar compositions wouldn't have been that much of a problem if the performances had been spectacularly good, but that is not the case. On the contrary, there is quite a lot wrong with the interpretation. Franco Fagioli is referred to as a countertenor, mostly used as a synonym for (male) alto. But in fact he partly sings in the soprano range: Handel's cantata Aure soavi e lieti is scored for soprano, and Dolc' pur d'amor l'affanno exists in two versions, for soprano and alto respectively. Here we hear the first version. Vivaldi's cantata Pianti, sospiri is for alto, though. The decision to sing in soprano range turns out to be rather unfortunate. Often Fagioli's voice sounds stressed, as in Monteverdi's Si dolce 'l tormento. This is also one of the reasons the diction is often less than satisfying, and sometimes outright bad. But that is not the only reason. Fagioli too much concentrates on producing a sound rather than a clear communication of the text. In the closing aria of Vivaldi's cantata we hear many notes, but hardly any text. And in the 17th-century pieces the performance is far away from the ideal of recitar cantando.

Two other issues need to be mentioned. The first is a major factor which destroys this recital: Franco Fagioli's continuous and wide vibrato. It gets on my nerves, but - more importantly - it is totally at odds with all we know about the way vibrato was applied in performances in the 17th and 18th centuries. The biography in the booklet says that Fagioli has worked with many conductors in the field of early music, and it is a mystery to me why they accept this style of singing. The wide vibrato is another factor which explains the often bad delivery. The other issue is the use of ornamentation. Strangely enough the four stanzas of Si dolce 'l tormento are sung without any ornamentation. In the closing aria of Vivaldi's cantata and the first aria from Handel's Dolc' pur d'amor l'affanno Fagioli adds ornaments in abundance in the dacapo of the A section, but they are mostly rather unstylish.

There is very little really to enjoy here. The only track which is reasonably well-done is the first aria (Care luci) from Aure soave e lieti. Even the instrumental pieces don't give much reason to be happy. The Preludio from the Suite in G by Handel is too stiff and should have been played in a far more improvisatorial manner. Geminiani's Sonata in a minor is pretty flat and bland, with too little dynamic contrasts. The last movement, an allegro moderato, is too slow.

There are far better discs to spend your money on.

Johan van Veen ( 2011)

Relevant links:

Franco Fagioli

CD Reviews