musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Zefiro spira - Italian Renaissance frottole & improvisations"

Gabriel Jublin, alto; Paul Kieffer, lute

rec: April & May 2016, Saint-Raphaël (Var, F), Eglise Protestante Unie de France
Claves - 50-1803 (© 2018) (60'36")
Liner-notes: E/F/I; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list

P. Zanin BISÀN (c1473-c1515): O despietato tempo; Antonio CAPRIOLI (c1425-1475): Quella bella e bianca mano; Gabriel JUBLIN (*1983) / Paul KIEFFER (*1990): [improvisations] Madonna, per voi ardo; Quanto di me più fortunate sete; Quanto sia liet'il giorno; Quel foco ch'io pensai; S'il dissi mai ch'io venga; Vita della mia vita; Voi ch'ascoltate in rime sparse il suono; Zefiro spira; Bartolomeo TROMBONCINO (1470-c1535): Che debo far che mi consigli amore; Dopoi longe fatiche e longi affanni; Non val aqua al mio gran foco; Per dolor me bagno il viso; Poi che volse la mia stella; Philippe VERDELOT (c1480-c1532): Afflitti spirti miei [1]; Amor, se d'hor in hor [1]; Benché'l misero cor [1]; Con l'angelico riso [1]; Con lagrime e sospir [1]; Divini occhi sereni [1]; Donna leggiadre e bella [1]; Fuggi, fuggi, cor mio [1]; Madonna, il tuo bel viso [1]; Madonna, per voi ardo [1]; Madonna, qual certezza [1]; Quand'amor i begli occhi [1]; Quanto sia liet'il giorno [1]; Vita della mia vita 1536 [1]

Sources: [1] Adrian Willaert, Intavolatura de li madrigali di Verdelotto da cantare et sonare nel lauto, intavolati per Messer Adriano, 1536

Recently I reviewed a disc with frottolas performed by Kate Macoboy and Robert Meunier. The present disc focuses on the same kind of repertoire, but approaches it from a somewhat different angle.

New Grove defines the frottola as "[a] secular song of the Italian Renaissance embracing a variety of poetic forms. It flourished at the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th and was the most important stylistic development leading to the madrigal." The two main composers of frottolas were Bartolomeo Tromboncino and Marchetto Cara. In the programme recorded by Gabriel Jublin and Paul Kieffer, only the former is represented. Instead of including pieces by Cara, they turned to the oeuvre of Philippe Verdelot. However, strictly speaking he did not compose any frottolas. He was rather one of the first to write madrigals. That said, some scholars see the traces of the frottola in his oeuvre. In any case, the pieces included here fit well into this programme.

Frottolas were usually scored for four voices. Here they are performed with one voice and lute. There are good reasons for that. Frottolas were often written and performed by one and the same person, who accompanied himself at the lute. Tromboncino and Cara were, at different times, connected to the court of the Este dynasty in Mantua. Isabella d'Este (1474–1539), wife of Francesco II, was an accomplished singer and lute player, and most of the frottolas they composed, were intended for her.

Paolo Da Col, in his liner notes, points out that the performance practice of secular polyphony was varied. In many pieces the cantus (soprano) line is the leading part, and often only that part was texted. This strongly suggests a performance by a solo voice, with the other parts being performed instrumentally. That goes not only for the frottola, but also the madrigal. The pieces by Verdelot on this disc are all taken from a collection of 28 pieces from his first book of four-part madrigals in an intavolation for voice and lute, published in 1536 by Adrian Willaert, maestro di cappella at St Mark's in Venice. It must have been very popular as no fewer than 14 editions were printed in the 16th century. This is a clear indication that such performances were widespread.

This justifies the approach of the two artists on this disc, and that of Kate Macoboy and Robert Meunier. However, as I already stated, the approaches are a bit different. First, Macoboy and Meunier opted for a very intimate way of performing, which not only concerns the manner of singing and playing, but also the acoustic. The latter is very intimate, suggesting that the artists are performing just for the listener at home. That is different here: the recording was made in a church, with the reverberation that goes along with that. That is something I am not happy with. It creates a kind of distance between the music and the listener, which seems at odds with the character of this repertoire. This is vocal chamber music, and requires a more intimate surrounding than a church.

Second, about a third of the programme consists of improvisations of the two artists in a different style. Gabriel Jublin states: "These improvised creations spring from spontaneous moments, without any editing or cutting, keeping as close as possible to the emphases flowing from the poetic texts. The contemporary aspect of these improvisations is present not only in the continuity but also in the disruptions made in these madrigals composed for a single voice by Verdelot and Tromboncino." They are not overly modern; in fact, they are rather traditional, but different from Verdelot and Tromboncino. The last piece is the most curious one: here Jublin sings with his mouth closed.

Personally I don't like these additions to a programme of 16th-century music. Others, who are more open to modern sounds, may enjoy them. Jublin's singing is certainly enjoyable. He has a nice voice, and sings the frottolas and madrigals very well, in a fluent legato that fits these pieces. Paul Kieffer is a fine lute player, who gives apt support. I would have liked some lute solos instead of the improvisations. Some pieces are performed incomplete. For instance, we hear just two of the four stanzas of Tromboncino's Non val aqua al mio gran foco. Considering the playing time of this disc I find this hard to understand.

On balance, I am a little in two minds about this recording. I like the frottolas and the way these two artists perform them. However, I don't like the acoustic and don't care for the improvisations. Listening to some samples on the internet may help you to decide whether this is your cup of tea.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Gabriel Jublin
Paul Kieffer

CD Reviews