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Cipriano DE RORE (1515/16 - 1565): "Le Vergine - 11 Madrigals"

Dir: Erik Van Nevel

rec: [n.d.] (live), [n.p.]
Et'cetera - KTC 1630 (R) ( 2018) (71'38")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/NL; lyrics - translations: E/NL
Cover & track-list

[in order of appearance] Vergine bella; Vergine saggia; Vergine pura; Vergine santa; Vergine sola al mondo; Vergine chiara; Vergine, quante lagrime; Vergine, tale terra; Vergine, in cui o tutta mia speranza; Vergine humana; Il di s'appressa

Source: Musica ... sopra le stanze del Petrarcha ... libro terzo, 1548

Emma Coopman, mezzo-soprano; Achim Schulz, Patrick De Brabandere, tenor; Peter De Laurentiis, tenor, reciter; Arnout Malfliet, bass; Peter Van Heyghen, recorder, reciter; Piet Stryckers, Frank Wakelkamp, Ghislaine Wauters, viola da gamba; Kris Verhelst, harpsichord

In 1566 the Venetian printer Gardano published the fifth book of madrigals by Cipriano de Rore. In his preface he expressed his admiration for the composer: "[To] Josquin, we owe the delectable art of song in several voices; to Mouton, the true art of contrapuntal variation, and to Willaert, the art of sweet harmonies. But to Cipriano, the unique, heaven granted the gift of blending all three in one". He was only one who admired De Rore, who was generally held in high esteem and whose madrigals impressed and influenced such significant composers of later generations as Orlandus Lassus and Claudio Monteverdi.

Rore was from Flanders; his name is not latinized: it appears in documents from his birthplace Ronse (Renaix) as early as around 1400. Nothing is known for sure about his early musical education. It has been suggested that he was a pupil of Willaert, but there is no documentary evidence for that. For the most part of his life Rore lived in Italy. The first sign of his presence are documents from 1542 according to which he lived in Brescia. It is not known what exactly his position was. The next stage of his career took place in Ferrara where he was in the service of Duke Ercole II d'Este as maestro di cappella from around 1546 until 1558. Within that period about half of his total output was published. Rore was especially famous for his madrigals. He had already several books of madrigals published before his arrival in Ferrara, and during his time there he published several further collections. Many madrigals also appeared in anthologies of various publishers - an indication that they were in high demand. Rore also had a strong influence on the performing conditions at the court in Ferrara. Only one year after his appointment as maestro di cappella the number of singers and instrumentalists increased.

The present disc is special in that it includes a cycle of eleven madrigals on texts from a single source: poems by Francesco Petrarca (in English-speaking countries also known as Petrarch) (1304-1374). He is often considered the founder of Humanism, but he has become best known for his sonnets. Among them the 366 which he devoted to Laura, the mysterious woman whom he loved but to whom he had hardly any contact, are the most famous. These were later given the collective name of Il Canzoniere (Songbook). It ended with a cycle of eleven stanzas, Vergine bella, also known as Le Vergine, as it is called in the two recordings of Rore's settings (the only previous recording seems that of The Hilliard Ensemble, 1982). Rore's settings open his Terzo libro di madrigali a cinque voci of 1548. Single stanzas from this cycle were set by various composers, among them Dufay and Palestrina; Rore is the only one who set the entire cycle.

Mary S. Lewis, in an article in The Journal of Musicology (Vol. 4, No. 4), entitled "Rore's Setting of Petrarch's 'Vergine Bella': A History of Its Composition and Early Transmission", states: "Dark and serious, 'Vergine bella' is written in a dense, seamless, imitative style; only an occasional madrigalism serves as a foil to the exquisite counterpoint to which the text is set with utmost sensitivity. This is the Rore of the connoisseurs, the composer whose every composition was eagerly awaited and treasured. The magnitude of the project, along with the high esteem in which Rore was held as a composer, endowed 'Vergine bella' with unique importance even (...) before the composer's work on it had been completed."

There is something special about this cycle. It was written after Laura's death, and these sonnets have a strong spiritual character. The texts suggest that Petrarch did more or less identify Laura with the Virgin Mary. That is not that unusual: the veneration of the Virgin often inspired poets to write texts which included images also used in secular love poetry. In Petrarch's time there was no watershed between the sacred and the secular, and that was still the case in the time Rore composed Vergine bella.

The Hilliard Ensemble recorded this cycle a capella, with one voice per part. Erik Van Nevel follows their example as far as the number of singers is concerned, but otherwise his (live) performance is very different. Its length already indicates that we don't only get the madrigals here; a complete performance takes about thirty minutes. In order to prepare the audience during the concert for the various madrigals, each of them was preceded by a reading of the Italian text "by speakers who have full mastery of the subtleties of the language, thereby reinforcing the link between Petrarch's splendid poetry and de Rore's setting of it". This is followed by an instrumental introduction: the entire madrigal or a part of it has been intabulated for instruments, and is played by recorder, viols and harpsichord, in various combinations. Moreover, the instruments also participate in the performance of the madrigals themselves. Fortunately, this does not really harm the intelligibility of the text. Even so, I strongly prefer a purely vocal performance.

The interpretation as such is very convincing. The singing and playing leaves nothing to be desired. That said, there are several issues which cannot be overlooked. The first and most serious of them: there is much noise, which is to some extent inevitable in a live performance, but I feel that more could have been done to remove the sometimes pretty loud coughing by some in the audience. Secondly, whether one likes the readings and the instrumental introductions, it would have been nice, if they had been allocated to different tracks. It is impossible to listen to the madrigals without them, and that is a real shame. Thirdly, the numbers of the tracks in the booklet don't synchronize with those at the rear. The entire performance is introduced with an instrumental piece, which is overlooked in the booklet.

Considering the quality of the interpretation, this performance deserved a studio production.

Johan van Veen ( 2019)

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