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"Stylems - Italian Music From The Trecento"

Ensemble Syntagma
Dir: Alexandre Danilevski

rec: July 5 - 7, 2007 & Feb 18, 2008, Bitche, Chapelle Saint-Augustin
Challenge Classics - CC72195 (© 2008) (58'13")

anon (14th C): Aquila altera, madrigal; Che ti zova nasconder, ballata; O crudel donna, madrigal; Pescando in aqua dolce, madrigal; Quando i oselli canta, madrigal; BARTOLINO DA PADOVA (c1365-1405): Per un verde boschetto, ballata; DONATO DA FIRENZE (2nd half 14th C): Senti tu d'amor, ballata; Faccia chi de' se'l po', caccia; EGIDIUS DA FRANCIA (2nd half 14th C): Alta serena luce, ballata; Mille mercede amor, ballata; Qual lege move, madrigal; GHIRARDELLO DA FIRENZE (c1320/25-1362/63): La bella e la veççosa cabriola; DON PAOLO DA FIRENZE (c1355-c1436): Amor, tu solo 'l sai, ballata; Benche partito da te, ballata; Che l'agg'i' fatto, ballata; Chi vuol veder, ballata

Mami Irisawa, soprano; Akira Tachikawa, alto; Bernhard Stilz, recorders; Sophia Danilevski, tromba marina; Aexandre Danilevski, lute, colichon, fiddle, clavichord, portative organ; Benoît Stasiascyk, percussion; with: Anne Rongy, fiddle; Masako Art, harp

The music of the Trecento - as the 14th century in Italy is usually called - belongs to the most sophisticated of the renaissance. This was partly due to a change in the notational system at the end of the 13th century. This made it possible to determine the rhythmic value of every single note. But social and political developments also played their part. There was a greater focus on the individuality of composers who wanted to put their personal stamp on their compositions. And Italian cities competed with each other, also in the realm of the arts. Florence and Padua were two of the main centres of music in the Trecento.

Music played an important role in society, as both literature and pictures show. Texts by famous poets, like Petrarch, were set to music, and instruments had their share in music making. The latter is in particular relevant in regard to this disc. In his liner-notes the artistic leader of the Ensemble Syntagma, Alexandre Danilevski, emphasises the emancipation of instruments which became more independent from the text. This is also the reason almost all pieces on this disc are performed with one or two instruments. In the pieces which are performed vocally they either play one of the parts or colla voce. A number of pieces are performed instrumentally. There is ample evidence of this practice, as there are collections of instrumental transcriptions of vocal music, like the Faenza Codex.

The documentation of this disc is pretty poor. There is scarce biographical information about the composers and no explanation of the differences between the three musical forms which are represented here, the madrigal (which has no connection to the madrigal of the late renaissance), the ballata and the caccia. The tracklist doesn't tell us whether a piece is scored for two or for three voices, and which instruments are used. Alexandre Danilevski plays several instruments, among them the colichon, but the booklet doesn't explain what kind of instrument it is. New Grove and a search on the internet shed no light on this mystery. In two texts we see a dotted line between two sections. This seems to indicate that the text has survived incomplete, but that isn't explained. And there is also no reference to the sources for the various pieces or to the authors of the lyrics.

Those omissions are serious, but it shouldn't withhold anybody with a special interest in this repertoire purchasing this disc. The music is exquisite, and the performances are really good. The voices of the soprano Mami Irisawa and male alto Akira Tachikawa match perfectly, which is especially important as in some items they sing unisono. The texts are not always easy to understand, but that has mainly to do with the use of instruments. In particular if an instrument plays the same line as the voice the whole performance gets a more instrumental than vocal character. But this is in line with the view of the director about the importance of instruments in this repertoire.

The instruments are played very well and mostly adapt perfectly to the voices. I don't quite understand the use of percussion in a couple of items nor do I understand why the first piece of the programme has to be repeated at the end. Moreover the use of a wind instrument and a string instrument within one piece - recorder and fiddle in the madrigals Quando i oselli canta and Pescando in aqua dolce - seems also questionable from a historical point of view.

The quality of the music and the level of singing and playing are part of the attraction of this disc. Moreover Danilevski has chosen pieces which figure infrequently in programmes of music from the Trecento. That makes this disc all the more commendable.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Syntagma

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