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Luzzasco LUZZASCHI (c1545 - 1607): Quinto Libro de Madrigali

La Venexiana
Dir: Claudio Cavina

rec: Feb 1999, Colletto (Roletto), Chiesa della Beata Vergine
Glossa - GCD C80905 (R) (© 2013) (69'16")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

A l'hor fia lieto il core [1]; Ahi cruda sorte mia [1]; Aura ch'errando intorno [1]; Cinto di neve homai [1]; Come viva il mio core [1]; Cor mio, benché lontano [2]; Credete a me [1]; Ecco, o dolce, o gradita [1]; Gioite voi vol canto [3]; Godete anima bella [1]; Io vissi anima mia [1]; Itene a volo [1]; Itene mie querele [2]; Lungi da te cor mio [1]; Moro ardendo [1]; Non guardar, che se guardi [1]; O miracol d'amore [1]; Parte il corpo da voi [1]; Può ben fortuna far [1]; Se la mia vita sete [1]; Se parti i' moro [1]; Tu godi o bell'amante [1]; Vivo da voi lontana [1]

Sources: [1] Quinto libro de madrigali, 1595; [2] Sesto libro de madrigali, 1596; [3] Settimo libro de madrigali, 1604

Rossana Bertini, Nadia Ragni, Emanuela Galli, soprano; Claudio Cavina, alto; Sandro Naglia, Giuseppe Maletto, tenor; Daniele Carnovich, bass; Rodney Prada, viola da gamba; Loredana Gintoli, double harp; Gabriele Palomba, Franco Pavan, lute; Fabio Bonizzoni, harpsichord

The name of Luzzasco Luzzaschi is well-known from encyclopedias, books on music history and liner-notes of recordings. His music is far less known, and doesn't appear all that often on disc. In his time he was universally admired, and inspired several composers of the next generation, among them such disparate fugures as Gesualdo and Monteverdi.

Luzzaschi is mostly associated with the madrigal but he was educated as an organist. He acted as such in the service of Alfonso II d'Este in Ferrara where he was born and worked all his life. It was in his capacity as organist that he made a name for himself. His contemporary Vincenzo Galilei ranked him among the best organists of his time. He had one particularly famous pupil: Girolamo Frescobaldi. It is interesting to note that the latter was inspired by Luzzaschi's madrigals in his toccatas. In the prologue to his first collection of toccatas (1615) he indicates how they should be played: "[This] manner of playing should not be fixed to the beat, as is usual in modern madrigals, which, though difficult, are lightened by the aid of rhythm, making it now slow now fast or, even, held suspended according to the emotion or sentiment of the words".

Frescobaldi was a representative of the modern style, the seconda prattica. Various of his colleagues referred to Luzzaschi as their source of inspiration. They had every reason to do so. It is true that Luzzaschi's madrigals are polyphonic in texture, and belong to the era of the prima prattica. However, one could also consider him a trailblazer for the new style which would emerge in the early 17th century. In Ferrara he often performed madrigals with the Concerto delle Dame, a ensemble of three ladies whose singing was the talk of the time. Some of the most famous composers and poets expressed their admiration for their singing. They were not only involved in the performance of madrigals, alongside other singers, they performed also music specifically written or arranged for them. Luzzaschi published a book of pieces which they used to sing, and there we find virtuosic embellishments not unlike those which came into vogue in the early 17th century.

Around 1600 various debates took place between representatives of the 'old' and the 'new' style. In his liner-notes Claudio Cavina writes: "[Who] knows (...) how he [Luzzaschi] would have enjoyed being mentioned by both 'rivals'!". The 'other side' saw him as one of them too. One of the most outspoken admirers was Carlo Gesualdo who never felt attracted to the monodic style as propagated by the likes of Caccini and Monteverdi. It was especially Luzzaschi's command of counterpoint and his ability to express the emotion of a text which inspired him. A friend of his wrote that Gesualdo told him that "he has abandoned that first style and is busy imitating Luzzasco, so loved and esteemed by him". If one knows Gesualdo's madrigals one can easily recognize some elements in Luzzaschi's recorded here. There is some strong chromaticism, for instance, in the closing line of O miracol d'amore, and at the end of Gioite voi col canto one feels very close to the world of Gesualdo.

All of this confirms that the stile nuovo as represented by Caccini, Monteverdi and Frescobaldi didn't appear out of nothing, and that Caccini was not the revolutionary he saw in himself. The same goes for Gesualdo: his style was not completely his own invention, but rooted in Luzzaschi's.

The versatility of the latter is well demonstrated here. The subject is the fifth book of madrigals which is recorded complete. Several madrigals are performed in two versions. At one point we hear them as printed in the book, at another in an arrangement following the examples in the book with pieces for the Concerto delle Dame. In those versions the madrigals are sung by the three sopranos, accompanied by the instruments which were also part of the three ladies' performances, and with the ornaments be found in that same source. This gives us some idea of the variety in performance practice at the court of Ferrara. It also gives us some insight into the sensational impact those singing ladies caused. The aristocratic music-lovers of that time had never before heard its like.

That sensation is impossible to recreate. Nowadays we are well acquainted with music from around 1600 performed by virtuosic singers and players. We should be thankful for that. That said, Luzzaschi's music is still largely unknown, and there is every reason to welcome wholeheartedly this reissue of a recording which was first released on the Symphonia label. Considering the importance of the text and the close connection between text and music it is most regrettable that the booklet comes without English translations. However, even if one doesn't understand Italian it is certainly possible to note several moments where Luzzaschi makes use of rhetorical gestures, madrigalisms and contrasting harmonic progressions to express the meaning of the words.

The singing could hardly be better. The ensemble is outstanding and in the passages for reduced voices and short solos the individual qualities of the singers come to the fore. This is not music of a theatrical nature, as some of the late madrigals of Monteverdi. This is intimate chamber music, which requires subtle interpretation and attentive listening. The former is delivered by the singers, the latter is up to you. Attentive listening will be richly rewarded.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

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