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"Regina bastarda - The virtuoso viola da gamba in Italy around 1600"

Paolo Pandolfo, viola bastarda, viola da gamba; Amélie Chemin, lira da gamba; Chiara Granata, arpa doppia; Thomas Boysen, theorbo; Francesco Saverio Pedrini, harpsichord, organ
La Pedrina/Francesco Saverio Pedrinia

rec: Sept 24 - 30, 2018, Zurich, Kirche Oberstrass
Glossa - GCD 922519 (© 2019) (63'56")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Oratio BASSANI (bef 1570-1615): Così le chiome (Palestrina) [11]; Susanna un giorno (Lassus); Toccata per b quadro [11]; Vincenzo BONIZZI (?-1630): Dolce me moy (Sandrin) [13]; Iousanze (Willaert) [13]; Girolamo DALLA CASA (c1543-1601): Anchor che co'l partire (Rore)a [8]; Thomas CRECQUILLON (c1505-1557): Ung gay bergera [2]; Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594): Susanne un joura [6]; Diego ORTIZ (c1510-c1570): Ricercata III [4]; Giovanni Pierluigi DA PALESTRINA (c1525-1594): Così le chiomea [5]; Vestiva i collia [5]; Francesco ROGNONI TAEGGIO (after 1570-after 1626): Vestiva i colli per la Viola (Palestrina) [12]; Riccardo ROGNONI (c1550-1620): Anchor che col partire (Rore) [9]; Unghai bergier (Crecquillon) [9]; Cipriano DE RORE (1515-1565): Anchor che col partirea [3]; Pierre SANDRIN (c1490-c1561): Doulce mémoirea [1]; Aurelio VIRGILIANO (fl c1600): Ricercata per la Viola Bastarda, e Lauto [10]; Adrian WILLAERT (1490-1562): Jouissance vous donneraia [7]

Sources: [1] Jacques Moderne, ed., Le Paragon des Chansons, 1538; [2] Tilman Susato, ed., Premier livre de chansons à quatre parties, 1543; [3] Antonio Gardano, ed., Perissone. Primo libro di madrigali a quattro voci di Perissone Cambio con alcuni di Cipriano Rore, 1547; [4] Diego Ortiz, Libro secondo [delle Glose sopra la Cadenze & altre sorte de punti in la Musica del Violone], 1553; [5] Girolamo Scotto, ed., Il desiderio. Secondo libro de madrigali a cinque voci de diversi autori, 1566; [6] Orlandus Lassus, Mellange d'Orlande de Lassus, contenant plusieurs chansons, tant en vers latins qu'en ryme francoyse, 1570; [7] Adrian Le Roy/Robert Ballard, eds., Mellange de chansons tant des vieux autheurs que des modernes, a cinq, six, sept, et huit parties, 1572; [8] Girolamo Dalla Casa, Il vero modo di diminuir, con tutte le sorti di stromenti, 1584; [9] Riccardo Rognoni, Il vero modo di diminuire, 1592; [10] Aurelio Virgiliano, Il Dolcimelo, c1600; [11] Francesco Maria Bassani, Regole di contrapunto, 1620-22; [12] Francesco Rognoni Taeggio, Selva de varii pasaggi, Parte seconda, 1620; [13] Vincenzo Bonizzoni, Alcune Opere di diversi autori Passagiate principalmente per la Viola Bastarda, 1626

[LP] Gabriel Jublin, alto; Paolo Borgonovo, Matthias Deger, tenor; Raitis Grigalis, baritone; Matteo Bellotto, bass

Improvisation has always played an important role in music history. Some specimens of this art have come down to us in written - and sometimes printed - form. Not seldom these were included in treatises, written to give musicians the chance to increase their knowledge and skills. Around 1600 is was especially the form of diminutions which was popular. They were based on equally popular melodies, either motets, madrigals or chansons. These vocal pieces are still well-known today, such as the chanson Doulce mémoire by Pierre Sandrin or the madrigal Ancor che col partire by Cipriano de Rore. They are also represented in the programme that was recorded by Paolo Pandolfo, and which sheds light on a special kind of diminutions.

Many diminutions are of the kind in which the composer takes one line from a vocal piece and adds ornaments or breaks up the line. The other voices are played as written by the composer, usually on a chordal instrument: keyboard, harp or a plucked instrument. However, some diminutions covered an entire piece, from soprano to bass. This was called "playing alla bastarda". The article on viola bastarda in New Grove gives this definition: "A style of virtuoso solo bass viol playing favoured in Italy from about 1580 to about 1630, which condensed a polyphonic composition (madrigal, chanson or motet) to a single line, whilst retaining the original range, and with the addition of elaborate diminutions, embellishments and new counterpoint (...)". Although this technique could be applied to any instrument, the viola da gamba was particularly suited to this technique because of its wide range of three and a half octave. The result is that the ornamented part jumps up and down through the whole range of the piece, from bass to treble and back.

Although the term alla bastarda first and foremost refers to a style of playing, it seems that performers at the time used instruments which were different from the 'common' viola da gamba. Unfortunately no viola bastarda has come down to us. For this recording, Pierre Bohr, a luthier from Milan, constructed two such instruments. One is made of cypress and has a string length of 77 cm (the viola da gamba has strings of around 68 cm), which is tuned in a special tuning of alternating fifths and fourths. The second is a somewhat smaller instrument with a string length of 73 cm, which is tuned as a normal bass viol in fourths with a third in the middle. "With these large string lengths, an important role is played by the material of the strings, which are made exclusively of smooth gut strings, that is to say, not of wound gut strings that are documented only in later times. Instead, strings documented in historical sources were used, for example specially twisted 'cordoni di Roma' or strings which were 'weighted' in a metal bath in order to attain the necessary mass. The interaction of string length, material and tuning of the strings makes possible the extraordinary range of up to four octaves which some of the viola bastarda pieces require." (booklet)

Playing alla bastarda required not only great technical skills, but also an advanced knowledge of counterpoint. No wonder that several treatises were published, which instructed instrumentalists in the art of improvising on existing pieces. They usually include a number of examples, and here we find some of the most popular madrigals and chansons of the late renaissance period. However, such pieces were not intended to be performed as they were written down. Playing alla bastarda was a form of improvisation. In this recording, Paolo Pandolfi did not try to improvise himself. That is understandable, as improvisations are basically unfit to be recorded. (The same problem, of course, concerns the addition of ornamentation.) We rather get here some specimens by the best representatives of this art.

This is not the first disc devoted to the art of playing alla bastarda. But it is the first, where special instruments are used. And this disc has an additional feature, which makes it even more interesting. Each instrumental arrangement is preceded by the chanson or madrigal which is its subject. This allows the listener to compare the original and the way the composer has treated the material. One of the most intriguing items is Anchor che co'l partire by Girolamo Dalla Casa. Here the two forms are mixed: the vocal ensemble sings Cipriano de Rore's madrigal, whereas Pandolfo plays the diminutions. One can exactly follow the way the viola da gamba - here the 'common' viol is played - joins the various voices of the madrigal, now joining the soprano and then the bass, and so on. This is probably the most instructive track on this disc.

I don't need to say anything about the quality of the music. Both the vocal originals and the arrangements are top of the bill. I have nothing but admiration for the way the performers have worked out this most interesting concept. Pandolfo is one of the best performers at the viola da gamba, who plays with aplomb and fantasy. These performances are quite impressive. His colleagues, which provide the basso continuo, do a fine job as well. And the vocal ensemble delivers excellent performances of the chansons and madrigals.

Because of the use of special instruments, this recording has to be ranked among the most important of recent years. It is a happy marriage of scientific research and superb musicianship.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Thomas Boysen
Paolo Pandolfo
La Pedrina

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