musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Sound out my voice! - Italian madrigals and bastarda music for viol consort"


rec: July 20 - 24, 2009, Kloster Konradsburg
Lunaris - LC-18240 (© 2010) (55'59")

Jacob ARCADELT (c1500-1568): O felici occhi miei; Francesco Maria BASSANI (fl c1620): Tocata; Giovanni Battista BOVICELLI (c1550-after 1594): Ancor che col partire; Girolamo DALLA CASA (c1543-1601): A la dolc'ombra - Pero piu ferm'ogni; Ancor che col partire; Alfonso FERRABOSCO II (c1575-1628): Sound out my voice; Adam JARZEBSKI (c1590-1649): Cantate Domino; Diego ORTIZ (c1525-1570): Recercade I & II 'Doulce mémoire'; Recercade I & IV 'O felici occhi miei'; Giovanni Pierluigi DA PALESTRINA (1525-1594): Vestiva i colli; Francesco ROGNONI (after 1550-after 1626): Vestiva i colli; Cipriano DE RORE (1516-before 1565): Ancor che col partire; Vincenzo RUFFO (c1510-1587): O felici occhi miei; Pierre SANDRIN (c1538-1560): Doulce mémoire

Claire Bracher, treble viol; Laura Frey, tenor viol; Giso Grimm, tenor viol, violone; Júlia Vetö, bass viol, violone; Claas Harders, consort bass, lirone

Improvisation has always played an important role in music history. Some specimens of the art of improvisation have come down to us in written - and sometimes printed - form. Not seldom these were included in treatises which were 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, like the chanson Doulce mémoire by Pierre Sandrin or the madrigal Ancor che col partire by Cipriano de Rore.

In most of these diminutions the composer has taken one line from the vocal piece and added ornaments or broken up the line. The other voices are played as written by the composer, usually on a chord instrument like the lute or the harpsichord. In this recording another option is chosen: a performance with a consort of viols. This is also the way the vocal models are played: the madrigals Vestiva i colli by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, O felici occhi miei by Jacob Arcadelt and Ancor che col partire by Cipriano de Rore, and the chanson Doulce mémoire by Pierre Sandrin.

But this disc contains two other kinds of written-down improvisations. The first is referred to in its title: music for viola bastarda. This is not a kind of instrument, but rather a playing technique, and more in particular a way to ornament a vocal piece. 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. In some pieces the ornamented line is an addition to the original texture - for instance a fifth part to a four-part madrigal. This disc also contains a special kind of using the viola bastarda technique. Sometimes Girolamo Dalla Casa has divided his ornamented lines over the various voices. A la dolc'ombra is a madrigal on a text by Petrarca, which was composed by Cipriano de Rore. The liner notes describe this as follows: "[He] chose to divide the virtuosic bastarda part between each of the players, rather than having just one person perform all of the divisions. In practice, this would require each player to perform their 'straight' unaltered part, until the bastarda line moved into their line upon which they would briefly take on the role of 'soloist', until passing it back to the next part, upon which the improvisation is based". This use of the viola bastarda technique is applied by the players to two other pieces which were originally written for one viola bastarda. In Vestiva i colli by Francesco Rognoni and Ancor che col partire by Girolamo Dalla Casa the ornamented line appears in all voices.

The viola bastarda technique spread among Europe, as the pieces by the Polish composer Adam Jarzebski and the English composer Alfonso Ferrabosco II show. The latter's Sound out my Voice is the title under which Palestrina's madrigal Vestiva i colli was published by Nicholas Younge in the collection Musica Transalpina of 1588. The English technique of the lyra viol and the form of divisions on a ground both derive from the viola bastarda technique.

This disc offers an interesting insight into a particular and little-known aspect of the art of improvisation of the late renaissance and early baroque. The performances by the German viol consort Orlandoviols is simply brilliant. It produces a warm sound, and phrasing and articulation are immaculate. The original vocal pieces are given very engaging performances as well, with fine dynamic gradation.

As the repertoire is fascinating and the performances are compelling and often exciting I strongly recommend this disc. I am not sure whether it will be easily available from the usual sources, but it can be ordered from the website of the ensemble which you will find below.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:


CD Reviews