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"Gregesche: a musical treasure of the Venetian renaissance"

Zefiro Torna
Dir: Jurgen De Bruyn
rec: July 3 - 5, 2008, St Truiden (B), Academiezaal
Et'cetera - KTC 4028 (© 2008) (51'49")

Andrea GABRIELI (1532/33?-1585): Como viver mil posso?; Saranda volde; Sassi, Palae (sopra la morte d'Adriano); Gioseffo GUAMI (1542-1611): La Todeschina; Claudio MERULO (1533-1604): Donna, se l'occhio mio; La Gratiosa; La Leonora; Antonio MOLINO ("Manoli Blessi") (c1495/97-1571?): Il Dedicatio; Annibale PADOVANO (1527-1575): Benedetta el gregaria; Mi ho scritto e sembre scrivo; O Vui Greghette belle (Dialogo); Cipriano DE RORE (c1515-1565): Madonn'hormai mi vedo; Bartolomeo SPONTONE (1530-1592?): Li modi varij; Giovanni Antonio TERZI (fl c1580-1600): Canzone di Claudio da Correggio; Yvo DE VENTO (c1543/45-1575): Cando la bun caval (Bataglia strathiotesca); Paolo VERGELLI (?-?): Pavolo come'l polo; Giaches DE WERT (1535-1596): Chel bello Epithimia; Adrian WILLAERT (c1490-1562): Dulce padron; Alvise WILLAERT (fl c1547-c1564): Pianza'l Grego Pueta

(Source: Antonio Molino, Di Manoli Blessi il primo libro delle Gregesche, 1564)

Cécile Kempenaers, Els Van Laethem, soprano; Els Janssens, contralto; Stephan Van Dyck, tenor; Matthew Baker, bass; Marleen Leicher, cornett; Liam Fennelly, viola da gamba; Jurgen De Bruyn, lute, guitar; Hannelore Devaere, harp

The collection Greghesche Di Manoli Blessi was published in 1564. It contained a number of vocal pieces of diverse character. All texts were written by Manoli Blessi, a pseudonym of the poet and composer Antonio Molino. The texts were written in a fantasy language, a mixture of Greek and Venetian dialects. Malino invited composers to set his texts to music, including some of the most famous of his time. The collection starts with a dedication in which the author thanks the composers who answered his invitation to set his texts to music. This dedication is read at the beginning of the disc.

Molino travelled in the Levant and when he returned to Venice he founded a musical academy. There is also a reference of him being a viol player. He is considered one of the leading figures in the early history of the commedia dell'arte. The publication of his Gregesche fits in with this. The publisher added a list of explanatory phrases at the end of the volume. This shows that the texts were indeed hard to understand. It is suggested Molino could well have picked up words from the many foreigners staying in Venice which was an important trading centre.

Molino wasn't a figure in the margin of Venetian society. As I wrote he invited some of the leading composers of his time to set his texts, like Adrian Willaert, Andrea Gabrieli, Claudio Merulo and Giaches de Wert. In particular Andrea Gabrieli seems to have had good a good relationship with Molino: he also set other texts by him to music, and the second volume of his five-part madrigals was dedicated to Molino. The collection also contains music by hardly-known composers like Paolo Vergelli, Yvo de Vento and Bartolomeo Spontone. Also included is a madrigal by Alvise Willaert, a nephew of the great Adrian, whose death is the subject of two laments.

According to Katelijne Schiltz in her programme notes there are a kind of "narrative lines" within the texts of this collection. That is not reflected by this disc as it contains only extracts from it. In the light of the rather short playing time of this disc I had liked a somewhat larger selection. But the programme does show the variety of forms and styles which were in vogue at the time.

The performance also pays tribute to the various ways to play this kind of music, using a combination of voices and instruments. The ensemble gives very good interpretations with five fine voices which blend well and the instrumentalists showing their impressive skills. These good performances had deserved a much better presentation than they get here. It's always the same with Et'cetera: there is only one tracklist in small letters on the backside of the tray, there is no indication as to which members of the ensemble are singing or playing in which piece, not even the dates of birth and death of the composers are given. That is really bad.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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