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"Recreatione spirituale - Ragionamenti in musica in baroque Rome"

Mvsica Perdvta
Dir: Renato Criscuolo

rec: Feb 15 - 17, 2010, Rome, Santa Maria in Vallicella
Da Vinci Classics - C00306 (R) (© 2020) (65'48")
Liner-notes: E; no lyrics
Covers & liner-notes

Giovanni ANIMUCCIA (1520-1571): Lodate Dio [2]; anon: Anima affaticate e sitibonde [2]; Ave del mare stella [2]; Cantiam tutti [3]; Gił per la mala via [2]; O dolcezza degl'angioli e di santi [3]; Perder gli amici [3]; Questo nobil bambino [3]; Si dilegui e si distrugga; Signor per la tua fe [2]; Emilio DE' CAVALIERI (c1550-1602): Rappresentatione di anima e di corpo (exc); Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): Canzona L'Altera [5]; Canzona La Bernardina [5]; Canzona La Tromboncina [5]; Inni sopra Ave maris stella [4]; Giovanni Girolamo KAPSPERGER: Canario [6]; Orazio MICHI 'dell'Arpa' (1594-1641): Ninna nanna al bambino Gesł napolitana; Diego ORTIZ (1510-1570): Recercada I sopra Il passamezzo antico [1]; Recercada IV sopra La Follia [1]; Recercada V sopra Il passamezzo antico [1]

Sources: [1] Diego Ortiz, Trattado de glosas, 1553; [2] Francisco Soto de Langa, ed., Libro delle laudi spirituali 1589; [3] Alessandro Gardano, ed., Il quarto libro delle laudi a tre et quattro voci, 1591; Girolamo Frescobaldi, [4] Il secondo libro di toccate, canzone, versi d'hinni, 1627; [5] Il primo libro delle canzoni a 1,2,3 e 4 col basso continuo, per sonare con ogni sorte di stromenti, 1628; [6] Giovanni Girolamo Kapsperger, Libro quarto di intavolatura di chitarrone, 1640

Marida Augeri*, Arianna Venditelli, soprano; Simona Braida, Federica Di Cicco*, mezzo-soprano; Sabina Gagliardi*, Gabriella Martellacci, contralto; Mauro Borgioni, baritone; (*) ripienists
Carolina Pace, recorder; Alberto Bagnai, recorder, organ; Alessandro Ratti, violin; Renato Criscuolo, bass violin, viola da gamba; Luca Marzetti, viola da gamba, violone in G; Mauro Squillante, colascione, chitarrino, cetra; Michele Carreca, lute, theorbo

The title of the disc under review refers to a movement which manifested itself in the late 16th and early 17th centuries in Italy. It aimed at a spiritual renewal, which was partly inspired by the Reformation, which had had such a widespread influence across Europe, breaking up the ecclesiastical unity and often threatening the unity of states. A central figure was Filippo Neri, who in 1556 founded a space where people could pray, but outside the church. He called it oratorio, which later found its quarters in the church of Santa Maria in Vallicella, a poor neighbourhood in Rome. As it soon was too small, a new church was built, together with a hall, called the Oratory. In 1575 the pope gave permission to found the Congregation of the Oratory; the new church was consecrated two years later.

The congregation was not only about care for the poor and the sick. Its aim was also to make the message of the Gospel comprehensible to 'uneducated ears', meaning those who did not understand Latin, the language of the church. Music was regarded one of the most important instruments to achieve this. The present disc includes music by the two first maestri di cappella, Giovanni Animuccia (until his death in 1571) and his successor Francesco Soto de Langa (until 1596). The latter actively collected music which could be sung at the gatherings of the Oratory.

Chiara Bertoglio, in her liner-notes, talks at length about Martin Luther and the Reformation. She sees a similarity between the ideals of both Luther and Neri, in that they wanted to bring the faith closer to the common people. There is certainly much truth in that, and also in the fact that both highly valued music in the vernacular. However, we should not overlook the fundamental differences in doctrine between the two men. In the music which was performed at the gatherings of the Oratory, the veneration of Mary played a highly important role. Neri is considered one of the main representatives of the Counter Reformation for a reason. Luther, on the other hand, held Mary in high esteem, but not as a mediator between the faithful and God.

Ms Bertoglio also seems to suggest that one of the main genres of music performed at the Oratory, the lauda, was a product of Neri's movement. That is certainly not the case. "The lauda arose in the city-states of central Italy during the 13th century, and was a product of the complementary forces of mendicant (especially Dominican and Franciscan) urban missionary zeal and the emerging guild-based communes of Tuscany and Umbria." (New Grove) The next centuries saw the emergence of confraternities of laudesi and disciplinati where the laude constituted the main part of the musical repertoire. The practice of singing laude disseminated across Italy and became part of popular culture.

Although there is no watershed between the genre of the lauda and other genres, it has a character of its own. The texts are all in the vernacular, and even - to facilitate understanding for the ordinary people - a rudimentary Italian often blended with dialect expressions. Alessandro Quarta, in the liner-notes to his recording of this kind of repertoire (Christophorus, 2013), writes that "[a] most essential aspect (..) is the elementary sensuality with which religious fervour is expressed". Sometimes the texts included images which probably didn't go down very well with the ecclesiastical authorities. The laude could be original, but there was also a large amount of arrangements. Sophisticated compositions were simplified in order to make them suitable for performances by people without formal musical education. Secular works were adapted in that the original lyrics were replaced by a sacred or moralistic text.

In Neri's view, the laude were tailor-made for his ideals. The lauda repertoire that came into existence in his circles, is not fundamentally different from the earlier repertoire. However, whereas the medieval laude were monophonic, the new repertoire was written in the polyphonic style of the time. In 1563 Giovanni Animuccia published a collection of laude for four voices. Francisco Soto de Langa wrote laude for three voices.

The programme, recorded by Mvsica Perdvta, comprises a wide variety of pieces in different genres. The laude are the core of the programme. What they are about is impossible to say, as the booklet omits the lyrics, which is a big shame. They are performed in a mixture of voices and instruments, and this undoubtedly is in line with the way they were performed in Neri's time. In addition we hear two extracts from Emilio de' Cavalieri's Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo, first performed in 1600. It is sometimes considered the first opera, but one could rather call it an oratorio, given its spiritual content. Basically it is an example of a morality play, and its moral content is entirely in line with that of the more popular repertoire of the time, such as the laude. Like the latter, Cavalieri's text is in the vernacular.

We also hear a number of instrumental works. They are not added to bring more variety into the programme, but express the view of Neri and his followers that there was no watershed between the two genres. Interestingly, Chiara Bertoglio again refers here to Martin Luther, who wrote: "Why should the devil have all the good tunes?" "Neri could have agreed with him: for both Reformers, 'good' music, even if it had dance overtones, should not be banned; they both knew the power of music to root itself in the listeners' minds and to inhibit them stably". Sometimes such 'good tunes' were provided with spiritual texts.

Only when starting listening to this disc I noticed that this recording was not new; it has been first released in 2011 at the label Urania. However, as that label is not widely disseminated, many music lovers may not have heard it before. It is nice that it is available in a reissue on the Da Vinci Classics label, as the music is well worth being performed and heard, especially in these fine and engaging performances by the ensemble Mvsica Perdvta. Among its singers are several who at the time may have been in the early stages of their career and have established themselves at the early music scene since then. I have very much enjoyed their singing here; I am particularly impressed by Mauro Borgioni in his performance of extracts from Cavalieri's Rappresentatione. The instrumental playing is also first class.

Although it is regrettable that the lyrics are not available - neither in the booklet nor at the label's site - one should not miss this fine disc. Even without knowing what the music is about, it is entertaining, which tells us much about the quality of the laude repertoire.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

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