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"La Voce di Orfeo - Gli amori di Francesco Rasi 1574-1621"

Furio Zanasi, baritonea; François Fernandez, violinb Giulio Casati, reciterc
La Chimera
Dir: Eduardo Egüez

rec: Jan 2009, Basse-Bodeux (B), Église de Notre-Dame de l'Assomption
Naïve - E 8925 (© 2009) (62'36")

anon: Porte celato il mio nobil pensiero; Antonio BRUNELLI (1575-1630): Non havea Febo ancoraab [4]; Giulio CACCINI (1546-1618): Dalla porte d'Orientea [5]; Dolcissimo sospiroa [1]; Vedrò il mio sola [1]; Eduardo EGÜEZ: Diminutions on Mille regretz (after Josquin Desprez)e; Passamezzo; 3 Sinfonias; Benedetto FERRARI (1603-1681): Io son amante di un crin auratoa [8]; Sigismondo D'INDIA (1582-1629): Cara mia cetraa [2]; Che vegg'io ohimèa [6]; Sovente allora [2]; Vorrei bacarti, o Fillia [2]; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Et è pur dunque veroa [7]; L'Orfeo: Rosa del ciela; [Solo di arpa]d; Francesco RASI (1574-1621): Dove misero maia [3]; È si lieto il mio corea [3]; Fillia mia, Filli dolcea [3]; Un guardo ohime ch'io moro [3]
[spoken text] Marc'Antonio GONDI (?-?): In morte di Madonnac; Ottavio RINUCCINI (1562-1621): Sfogava con le stellec; Torquato TASSO (1544-1595): Amor l'ali m'impennac

(Sources: [1] Giulio Caccini, Le Nuove Musiche, 1601; [2] Sigismondo d'India, Le musiche ... da cantar solo, 1609; [3] Francesco Rasi, Madrigali di diversi autori posti in musica dal S. Francesco Rasi, 1610; [4] Antonio Brunelli, Scherzi, arie, canzonette e madrigali a una, due e tre voci ..., libro secondo, op. 10, 1614; [5] Giulio Caccini, Nuove Musiche a nuova maniera di scriverle, 1614; [6] Sigismondo d'India, Le musiche ... a una e due voci ... libro IV, 1621; [7] Claudio Monteverdi, Scherzi musicali cioè arie et madrigali in stil recitativo, 1632; [8] Benedetto Ferrari, Musiche varie a voce sola, 1633)

Sabina Colonna-Preti, viola da gamba, violone, lirone; Marina Bonetti, triple harp d; Eduardo Egüez, archlute, lute, theorbo, guitare

This disc is devoted to Francesco Rasi, one of Italy's most famous singers around 1600. He was born in an aristocratic family who at the same time was determined to become a professional musician. And that wasn't easy at that time. In his programme notes Philippe Canguilhem writes: "Rasi represents an instance - frequent at the time - of the musician of noble descent cursed with a disturbed, restless character, the consequence of a veritable existential schizophrenia: (...) Rasi was torn between his prodigious musical gifts, which gained him a reputation at court and the appreciation of the prince [The Duke of Mantua], and the desire to assert his aristocratic status, which for him was incompatible with exercising his art in the same way as a professional musician whose connection with the prince was one of servile dependence." From this he explains Rasi's urge to travel as this was a way to distinguish himself from the ordinary musician who didn't have the opportunity to travel at will.

Rasi's reputation as a singer was such that he participated in many opera performances of the first decade of the 17th century. He, for instance, sang in the first performances of the very first opera in history, Jacopo Peri's Euridice, in 1600. In that same year he sang in the opera Il rapimento di Cefalo by Giulio Caccini, who also had been his singing teacher. It is very likely he also realised the title role in the first performance of Monteverdi's opera L'Orfeo in 1607. The next year he sang in Monteverdi's Arianna and in Dafne by Marco da Gagliano. During his whole career he travelled through Italy, but also visited the Low Countries, Prague and Salzburg. In 1610 he was sentenced in Tuscany to be hung, drawn and quartered for the murder of his stepmother's servant. But his reputation was such that he got away with it, thanks in particular to the protection of the Gonzagas who let him flee to Turin.

Rasi not only acted as a singer, but published his own poems, and he also wrote music. His only opera has been lost, but a number of monodies, written in the style of Caccini, have been preserved. Some of them have been recorded here.

The disc is divided into three sections each of which is introduced by a Sinfonia, written by the director of La Chimera, Eduardo Egüez, in the musical language of the time. In the first part we hear two pieces by Caccini, who claimed to have laid the foundations of the seconda prattica. Also in this part is a madrigal by Sigismondo d'India, one of the most important composers in that style. Like Rasi he was a nobleman, born in Palermo at Sicily. He has become mainly known for his monodies, but he also composed madrigals, motets and villanellas.

The first vocal piece of this disc is by Benedetto Ferrari who was nicknamed della tiorba, a reference to the instrument he played. In his time the monody was an established phenomenon and well past its experimental stage. The inclusion of his aria Io son amante di un crin aurato is a bit odd as Francesco Rasi had already died when Ferrari's music started to be printed. But then, this disc doesn't pretend to bring music which Rasi could actually have sung himself. It just gives some idea of the kind of music which was performed at his time in which he played such an important role.

The second section revolves around the character of Orpheus. It is Rasi's likely performance of the role of Orfeo in Monteverdi's opera which has given this disc its title: "The voice of Orpheus". Two extracts from this opera are surrounded by pieces by d'India, Caccini and Rasi himself, as well as the long monody Che vegg'io ohimè by Sigismondo d'India. It is something one could compare with the recitative as we know it from the opera of the late baroque. It is written in free style, and the singer should strictly follow the rhythm of the text rather than that of the music. It is of utmost importance to sing this work in a highly declamatory style which permits expression of every emotional shade in the text. This is what Caccini called recitar cantando, speechlike singing. Furio Zanasi's performance is a brilliant demonstration of what that means.

The third section is devoted to "impossible love and the sufferings it causes". An example is the poem by Ottavio Rinuccini, Sfogava con le stelle, set to music by many composers, but here recited by Giulio Casati: "One sick from love, under the night sky, poured out his grief to the stars". This section also contains Eduardo Egüez's diminutions on Josquin's famous chanson Mille regretz, which are included as a tribute to Rasi in his capacity as a player of the chitarrone. The disc ends with Non havea Febo ancora, known from the famous setting of Monteverdi. We get here the version of Antonio Brunelli, an interesting contemporary of Rasi whose music hasn't been really explored yet. This setting is very different from Monteverdi's and quite surprising, but I'm not going to give the details here.

This whole disc is an impressive demonstration of what exactly recitar cantando means. Each performer who wants to sing (or play) Italian music from the early 17th century should listen to this and learn from it. Every detail in the text is expressed, all affetti are explored to the full. Furio Zanasi has not a voice which immediately appeals to me, but the way he uses it to express the text and all the emotions it carries is just amazing and gripping. A singer should tell a story, and that is exactly what Furio Zanasi is doing here in a most impressive way. How nice is it to hear a singer who understands the variety of the ornamentation composers like Caccini required from their singers and who is actually able to apply it correctly. And how nice to hear a true messa di voce, which was such an important tool of expression.
Let us not forget the players: they follow him every step in the way, and underline the text with inflections in tempo and dynamics. The various instruments are also used in a most appropriate manner, thus underlining the character of every single piece.

In short, this is a magnificent recording which I can't recommend enough.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

La Chimera

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