musica Dei donum
[A] "O vos amici mei carissimi"
rec: Nov 2007, Dresden, Reformierte Gemeinde
Ramée - RAM 0805 (© 2008) (60'25")
[B] "Fabellae Sacrae - Ancient tales and sacred legends in Italian motets of the 17th century"
rec: Sept 2007 & June 2008, Meiringen, Reformierte Kirche
Pan Classics - PC 10280 (© 2008) (77'44")
[A] Giovanni BASSANO:
Ancor che col partire per sonar più parti ;
Carlo FILAGO (1589-1644):
Confitemini Domino ;
Diligam te Domine ;
Ego sum qui sum ;
Exaudi Domine voce meam ;
Laudate coeli ;
O vos amici mei carissimi ;
Quam pulchra es ;
Sub tuum praesidium confugimus ;
Biagio MARINI (1597-1665):
La Foscarina ;
Claudio MERULO (1533-1604):
Giovanni PICCHI (c1571-1643):
Canzon XV ;
Giovanni Battista RICCIO (c1570-c1630):
Canzon La Fineta ;
Canzon La Grileta ;
Canzon La Pichi, in Ecco con il Tremolo ;
Canzon La Savoldi ;
Sonata a 4 
[B] Mario CAPUANA (?-before 1647):
Parce mihi, Domine ;
Giacomo CARISSIMI (1605-1674):
Laudemus virum gloriosum ;
Giovanni GHIZZOLO (c1580-c1625):
Benedicite Deum caeli ;
Jubilemus et laetemur omnes ;
Sigismondo D'INDIA (c1580-c1629):
Dilectus meus ;
Osculare, o beata peccatrix ;
Francesco LAMBARDI (c1587-1642):
Giovanni DE MACQUE (c1550-1614):
Erasmo MAROTTA (c1576-1641):
Fecit Deus ;
Quis mihi det ;
Tarquinio MERULA (c1595-1665):
Hor ch'è tempo di dormire ;
Michelangelo ROSSI (c1601-1656/1670):
Toccata II ;
Giovanni ROVETTA (c1596-1668):
In caelis hodie iubilant sancti ;
Giovanni Felice SANCES (c1600-1679):
Ardet cor meum ;
Barbara STROZZI (c1619-1664):
In medio maris ;
Giovanni Battista TREVISO (fl mid-17th C):
Gaudete omnes 
 Vincenti (ed), Motetti, madrigali et canzoni francese di diversi eccellentissimi auttori, 1591;
 Capuana, Motetti, op. 3, 1649;
 Carissimi, Sacri concerti musicali, 1675;
 Filago, Sacrarum Cantionum, liber III, 1619;
 D'India, Novi concentus ecclesiastici, 1610;
 Marini, Affetti musicali, op. 1, 1617;
 Marotta, Raccolta di motetti, libro I, 1635;
 Merula, Curtio precipotato et altri capriccij composti in diversi modi, libro II, op. 13, 1638;
 Motetti a voce sola de diversi eccellentissimi autori, libro I, 1645;
 Picchi, Canzoni da sonar con ogni sorte d'istromenti, 1625;
 Riccio, Il terzo libro delle divine lodi musicali, 1620;
 Rossi, Toccate e Correnti d'intavolatura d'organo e cembalo, 1657;
 Sances, Motetti a una, due, tre e quattro voci, 1638;
 Seconda raccolta de sacri canti, 1624;
 Strozzi, Sacri musicali affetti, libro I, op. 5, 1655
[IM] Constanze Backes, Gerlinde Sämann, soprano;
Hermann Oswald, tenor;
Markus Flaig, bass;
Jiri Sicha, Amrai Große, violin;
Hikaru Furue, Ercole Nisini, Christoph Scheerer, Robert Schlegl, sackbut;
Samuel Manzano, chitarrone;
Carsten Lorenz, virginals, organ
[Savadi] Ulrike Hofbauer, Kristine Jaunalkse, soprano;
Marie Bournisien, triple harp
The music aesthetics of the early 17th century was based on the concept of the affetti, often referred to with the German word Affekte. Its origin was in the Greek and Latin doctrines of rhetoric and oratory. The affects were basically rationalized emotional states or passions. It was the aim of the composer to write music which moved the emotions of the audience were moved in the right direction, reflecting the content of the text. The monody, a piece for solo voice and basso continuo, was considered the ideal vehicle to express affetti and get them across to the audience. The two recordings to be reviewed here both present repertoire which was written within this framework. The repertoire shows that the 'monodic style' was soon extended to music for more voices and to instrumental music as well. The first disc contains vocal pieces for two to four voices, the second compositions for one and two voices.
The first disc concentrates on music by masters who worked in Venice. The core of the programme are the vocal pieces by Carlo Filago. He was born in Rovigo, studied with Luzzasco Luzzaschi, was organist at the cathedral of Treviso from 1608 to 1623 and then first organist of San Marco in Venice until his death. No keyboard music has been preserved, but three collections with vocal music were printed. The works on this disc all come from a collection of motets for two to six voices which was published while Filago was still working in Treviso. The motets vary in scoring and style. Here four motets for voices with basso continuo and four motets for voices and instruments have been chosen. In the former elements of prima prattica in which all voices are treated equally, and seconda prattica in which one or some voices are given prominence are present. In the concertato motets the instruments are treated independently; they don't play colla voce nor do they simply accompany the voices.
The ensemble Instrumenta Musica consists of excellent singers and players who show their technical mastery of the material. I am sure they also understand what it takes to perform this kind of music. But it hardly ever materialises. The performances are nice to listen to, but they don't fully explore the emotional content of Filago's motets. In particular in regard to dynamics these performances are rather flat. For instance, in Exaudi Domine far too little is done with words like "clamavi" (I call) or "miserere mei" (be merciful). This kind of words have to be emphasized through things like esclamazione (a sudden swelling and abating of the voice), with colouring of the voice or with timing. There is too much uniformity in the tempi, and the interpreters are also far too modest in their application of ornaments.
Like the vocal pieces the instrumental items are played properly, but that is only the start of the process of interpretation. I also have the feeling the players need to put all their attention to a technically correct performance, and don't have the time to give a real interpretation. Like in the motets the emotion of this repertoire is seriously underexposed.
The second disc is an entirely different matter. Its horizon is broader, both in time and regionally. The character of many pieces is also somewhat different, and that partly explains the difference in interpretation. But only partly, because at the same time I believe the two sopranos on this disc have grabbed the spirit of the music of the first half of the 17th century better than the members of Instrumenta Musica. There is more freedom in regard to rhythm and tempo, more ornamentation and a much better treatment of dynamics. It makes their performances more dramatic and more captivating.
What makes this disc even more worthwhile is the choice of repertoire. The programme contains a number of composers who are hardly known, and very sparingly - if at all - available on disc. Let us have a look at them.
Capuana spent his whole life in Noto on Sicily, where he was also born. Ghizzolo was born in Brescia and died in Novara, and in the meantime was active in several cities, like Milan, Ravenna and Padua, and wrote only vocal music, both secular and sacred. Francesco Lambardi was of Milan, where he stayed all his life. He worked as a singer and as an organist. Only a handful of keyboard pieces have been preserved, one of them the Toccata played here on the harp. This is a perfectly legitimate practice as the repertoire for harp and keyboard - and also plucked instruments - partly overlap.
Like Capuana Erasmo Marotta was from Sicily, and worked most of his career in Rome and Palermo. Not many compositions from his pen are known: madrigals, motets and an intermedio. Quis mihi det is written on a text from the Song of Songs. This is a so-called 'echo setting': a word at the end of a line by the first voice, expressing a question, is altered by the second voice to become an answer. This practice was most frequently used in the theatre, and its application in a sacred piece like this shows how much sacred and secular music shared the ideal of expressing affetti. Marotta entered the Jesuit order, and Fecit Deus is written in honour of St Ignatius, the founder of the order, and St Xavier.
With Giovanni Rovetta we are in Venice, who - like his contemporary Alessandro Grandi - worked in the shadow of Monteverdi until he succeeded him as maestro di cappella of San Marco in 1644. In caelis hodie iubilant sancti is written in honour of Mary. Almost nothing is known about Giovanni Battista Treviso; unlike the other composers represented here he doesn't have an entry in New Grove. In Gaudete omnes he makes use of an ostinato bass, a very popular formula in the 17th century.
The other composers are mostly better known. Carissimi is best-known for his oratorios, among them Vanitas vanitatum. But here we don't hear the oratorio, but a motet for two sopranos and bc, with a different text. Sigismondo d'India is one of the most famous composers of madrigals from around 1600, but he also composed religious music, like Osculare, o beata peccatrix. This motet about the life of Mary Magdalene shows the same daring harmony as many of his madrigals.
Tarquinio Merula's Hor ch'è tempo di dormire is one of the most famous pieces from this time, and often recorded. It is a lullaby for the little child Jesus, put into the mouth of Mary, and includes graphic descriptions of his passion to come. Sances was mainly working at the imperial court in Vienna where also Ardet cor meum was composed, another piece on a text from the Song of Songs.
Both Michelangelo Rossi and Giovanni de Macque are mainly known for their often rather bizarre and unconventional instrumental compositions. The works played here are evidence of that.
This is a very interesting and intriguing programme, giving some insight in the colourful musical world of 17th-century Italy. The performance of the basso continuo part on the harp is another unusual but very welcome aspect of this release. If you are interested in this kind of repertoire, you shouldn't miss this disc. As far as the first recording is concerned, let's hope Carlo Filago is getting another chance.
Johan van Veen (© 2009)