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Giovanni BASSANO (c1558 - c1617): "Ricercare per strumenti insieme"

La Guilde des Mercenaires
Dir: Adrien Mabire

rec: April 15 - 18, 2015, Fontenay le Vicomte, Eglise de Saint-Rémi
Encelade - ECL 1501 (© 2016) (66'03')
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover & track-list

Ancor che col partire (Cipriano de Rore) [3]; Benedicta sit (Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina) [3]; Caro dolce ben moi (Andrea Gabrieli) [3]; Fantasia 5 [1]; Fantasia 8 [1]; Fantasia 11 [1]; Fantasia 17 [1]; Fantasia 18 [1]; Fantasia 20 [1]; Frais et gaillard (Jacobus Clemens non Papa) [3]; La Rose (Adrian Willaert) [3]; Oncques amour (Jacobus Clemens non Papa) [3]; Ricercata prima [2]; Ricercata secunda [2]; Ricercata terza [2]; Ricercata quarta [2]; Ricercata quinta [2]; Ricercata sesta [2]; Ricercata settima [2]; Ricercata ottava [2]; Susanne un jour (Orlandus Lassus) [3]; Tota pulchra es (Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina) [3]; Ung gay bergier (Thomas Crecquillon) [3]

Sources: [1] Fantasie per cantar et sonar con ogni sorte d'istrumenti, 1585; [2] Ricercate, passaggi et cadentie per potersi esercitar nel diminuir terminatamente con ogni sorte d'istrumento, 1585; [3] Motetti, madrigali et canzone francese di diversi eccellenti autori, 1591

Elsa Franck, recorder, reeds; François Lazarevitch, transverse flute; Adrien Mabire, cornett; Jérémie Papasergio, reeds; Sandrine Dupé, violin; Karolina Herzig, harp, harpsichord; Marc Wolff, archlute; Jean-Luc Ho, harpsichord, organ

Giovanni Gabrieli, Claudio Merulo, Giovanni Bassano - just a few names of musicians who contributed to the glory of Venice whose fame disseminated across Europe. Venice was the place to be in the decades around 1600. Brilliant vocal music in the San Marco and many other churches reflected the splendour of the city. It was also the place which played a crucial role in the development of a completely new style of composing. One element was instrumental virtuosity, especially for the violin and the cornett. One of its exponents was Giovanni Bassano.

The names Bassano and Bassani were pretty common in northern Italy at the time. New Grove mentions the Bassano family, a dynasty of musicians, instrument makers and composers who travelled to England and were in the service of Henry VIII. They played an important role in the emergence of consort music in England. In New Grove Giovanni Bassano is included in the article devoted to the Bassano family, but according to Adrien Mabire in his liner-notes there is no firm evidence that he was connected to this family. He seems to have been a prodigy as he was only 15 or 16 years old when he was one of the six pifferi del doge, a group of instrumentalists placed directly under the authority of the Venetian doge. In 1601 he succeeded Girolamo Dalla Casa as head of the instrumental ensemble of San Marco, a position he held until his death. He not only played at the basilica but also participated in major festivities in other churches.

Bassano's reputation in modern times is largely founded on his treatise Ricercate, passaggi et cadentie per potersi esercitar nel diminuir terminatamente con ogni sorte d'istrumento of 1585. It includes instructions in the art of embellishment which are accompanied by many illustrations of then well-known madrigals and motets with embellishments by Bassano. These are generally known as diminutions or with the Italian term passaggi. In 1591 Bassano published another book with diminutions. From the latter source the pieces with titles which refer to vocal compositions are taken. Unfortunately the track-list doesn't mention the names of the composers of the madrigals and motets; I have added them in the header. Some of them are generally known, such as Susanne un jour, a chanson by Lassus, the madrigal Ancor che col partire by Cipriano de Rore and the chanson Frais et gaillard by Jacobus Clemens non Papa. These are the most impressive examples of instrumental virtuosity which developed in the late 16th century.

The 1585 treatise includes a set of eight ricercate for a solo instrument without accompaniment. Being intended as pedagogical material they are still used as such by musicians specializing in renaissance music. They are technically demanding but unfortunately it is not known whether they were intended for specific instruments and, if so, for which. All of them are recorded here and are divided over the different instruments of this ensemble: violin, cornett and mute cornett, recorder, transverse flute and bassanello. The latter is a double-reed, conically bored instrument, which existed in different sizes.

Also in 1585 Bassano published the collection Fantasie per cantar et sonar con ogni sorte d'istrumenti. These fantasias are scored for three instruments which are treated on equal footing; it is not different from the consort music written in England at the same time. The title page doesn't specify the instruments to be used; according to the habit of the time it refers to ogni sorte d'istrumenti (all sorts of instruments). Some fantasias are played with three recorders of different pitches, others in a 'broken consort' of, for instance, violin, cornett and tenor bassanello.

It should be noted that Bassano's music belongs to the stile antico. In his diminutions he takes the upper part of a vocal piece which is then embellished. The other instruments don't play a basso continuo but take care of the remaining parts of the original polyphony. Here a variety of lower instruments is used: archlute, harp, harpsichord and organ.

Pieces by Giovanni Bassano are quite often recorded, usually as part of a mixed programme of Italian music from around 1600. It is almost exclusively the diminutions which are performed and recorded; I can't remember ever having heard the ricercate and the fantasie. Because of that this disc is a substantial addition to the discography. The way the programme is put together guarantees for a maximum of variety, also in regard to instrumentation. La Guilde des Mercenaires is an ensemble I have never heard before; I hope to hear it more often because I have greatly enjoyed this disc. Not only are these pieces by Bassano excellent stuff, they receive outstanding performances from the musicians in this ensemble who are all experts on their respective instruments.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

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