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Giovanni BASSANO (c1558 - 1617): "Amor Sacro - Amor Profano"

Monika Mauch, sopranoa
Capricornus Ensemble Stuttgart
Dir: Henning Wiegräbe

rec: 15 - 18 Oct 2010, Brombach, Evangelische Kirche
Coviello Classics - COV 21108 (© 2011) (71'55")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

Anchor che co'l partire (Cipriano de Rore) (2 versions)adfgh/aghi [2]; Confitemini Dominobcdfgh [3]; Dic nobis, Mariaabdefgi [3]; Fantasia 1cfg [1]; Fantasia 6 alla quarta bassadfg [1]; Fantasia 10bdg [1]; Fantasia 13bfg [1]; Fantasia 17 alla quarta bassadfg [1]; Fantasia 20cfg [1]; Fuit homo missus a Deo (Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina)cfi [2]; Haec est virgoabcdfg [3]; La bella netta ignuda e bianca mano (Cipriano de Rore)fhi [2]; Liquide perle Amor (Luca Marenzio)gi [2]; Nasce la pena mia (Alessandro Striggio)aghi [2]; Pulchra es amica mea (Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina)adefg [2]; Quando i vostri (Luca Marenzio)gi [2]; Quando signor (prima parte) - Ma poi che vostr'altezza (seconda parte) (Cipriano de Rore)gi [2]; Salvator mundibcdfghi [3]; Tota pulchra es amica mea (Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina)cghi [2]; Veni, veni, dilecte mi (Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina)bfhi [2]

[1] Fantasie per cantar et sonar con ogni sorte d’istrumenti, 1585; [2] Motetti, madrigali et canzone francese di diversi eccellenti autori, 1591; [3] Concerti ecclesiastici a cinque, sei, sette, otto, & dodeci voci, libro secondo, 1599

Gebhard Davidb, Frithjof Smithc, cornett; Joseph Bastiand, Michael Hufnagele, Eckart Wiegräbef, Henning Wiegräbeg, sackbut; Matthias Spaeter, theorboh; Johannes Strobl, organi

Giovanni Bassano played a crucial role in the emancipation of instrumental music in the decades around 1600. Although the human voice was still considered "the basis of all things", as Georg Philipp Telemann wrote in the 18th century, the role of musical instruments began to wax as it was stated that instruments could bring something beyond the capabilities of the human voice. Among those with a special interest in the music of this particular period Bassano is by no means an unknown quantity. His diminutions on vocal pieces of his time are often played and recorded. This disc includes some interesting additions to the picture of this famous composer.

Bassano was a member of a family of musicians and instrument makers. At an early age he had already been appointed as one of the pipers of the Doge of Venice and since then called himself "musician of the most illustrious gentlemen of Venice". He participated in performances of instrumental music in the San Marco, where he cooperated with the great Giovanni Gabrieli. In 1601 Bassano became the leader of the instrumental ensemble of the basilica, as successor to Girolamo Dalla Casa. The latter was the author of an important treatise on the art of diminution, the embellishment of a vocal line. This technique was frequently practised by Bassano as well.

The programme here includes a number of sacred and secular pieces by famous composers of the late 16th century which are the subject of diminutions by Bassano. It shows which composers and which pieces belonged to the best-known and most admired at the time. Cipriano de Rore's Anchor che col partire was one of the most famous madrigals - Bassano took it no less than three times for diminutions. The most simple form of diminutions was the embellishment of one line from a piece, usually the upper part. Long notes were broken up into a number of shorter notes, often moving up and down through the range of the instrument. The composer could also add new notes to what the original composer had written down and change rhythmic patterns. Bassano sometimes chooses another part, for instance the bass, as in Palestrina's motet Fuit homo missus a Deo. The programme includes three motets on texts from the Song of Solomon. Interestingly here Bassano chooses both the upper and the lowest part for ornamentation, "thus developing a kind of dialogue between lover and beloved from the polyphonic setting", Silke Leopold writes in the liner-notes. That refers to The Song of Solomon as whole, because there is no dialogue in the text of those motets. It would have been nice, by the way, if the booklet had included the lyrics of those pieces which are performed instrumentally.

There are several sets of diminutions which have per più parti added in the track-list. This refers to a specific part of the diminution repertoire: the ornamented line is not confined to one particular voice of the original piece, but moves up and down through various voices, using material from all of them. Henning Wiegräbe informed me that these diminutions usually move between alto and bass.

This disc interesting not only because of the various ways in which Bassano treats pieces written in the stile antico, but also because it sheds light on the versatility of the performance practice of that time. One is inclined to think that diminutions are only to be played on instruments, but that seems not to be the case. In one of the arrangements of Rore's Anchor che col partire (track 13) Monika Mauch sings the diminutions of the upper part. In the other arrangement (track 16) she sings the original treble part without ornamentation - just like Rore has written it down. Also interesting is the performance of the four sacred concertos. These could be sung a cappella or be performed in a mixed scoring of voice(s) and instruments. The concertos Dic nobis, Maria and Haec est virgo are performed this way, with Monika Mauch singing the upper part and the instruments playing the other parts. Salvator mundi and Confitemini Domino are performed with instruments only, and this is certainly another legitimate option.

The programme also includes six Fantasias for three voices. These are polyphonic pieces and early examples of independent instrumental music other than dance music. It bears witness to the emancipation of instruments from the stranglehold of vocal music. The title of this collection of 1585 says that they are fit to be sung and played. They come without a text, though, and one wonders how these could have been performed vocally. The title also indicates that all sorts of instruments can be used. Here the fantasias are played either by cornett and two sackbuts or by three sackbuts.

This repertoire is anything but easy and requires a considerable amount of flexibility and agility from the players. The members of the Capricornus Ensemble Stuttgart meet these requirements with flying colours. The playing is highly impressive and the sound of the ensemble in the motets which are performed instrumentally is gorgeous. In the motets with a mixed vocal/instrumental scoring the voice of Monika Mauch blends perfectly with the wind. She has very nice voice which is ideally suited to this repertoire. In the vocal embellishments she shows the same kind of agility as the players.

To sum up: a disc with fascinating repertoire, brilliantly sung and played.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Monika Mauch
Henning Wiegräbe

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