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"Soleil noir - Arie da e per Francesco Rasi"

Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, tenor
I Gemelli

rec: Feb 5 - 7, 2019, Paris, …glise Notre-Dame du Bon Secours
NaÔve - V 5473 (© 2020) (51'45")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

Giuseppino DEL BIADO (?-1616): Fuggi, fuggi da questo cielo (La Mantovana); Giulio CACCINI (1551-1618): Amarilli mia bella; Dalla porta d'oriente; Thomas DUNFORD (*1988): Passamezzo (improvisation); Andrea FALCONIERI (1585/86-1656): E vivire e morire; La suave melodia; Marco DA GAGLIANO (1582-1643): La Dafne (Lamento d'Apollo); Carlo GESUALDO da Venosa (1566-1613): Gagliarda del Principe di Venosa; Sigismondo D'INDIA (c1582-bef. 1629): Amico, hai vinto; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Quel sguardo sdegnosetto (SV 247); Jacopo PERI (1561-1633): Un dž soletto; Francesco RASI (1574-1621): Ardo, ma non ardisco; Filli mia, filli dolce; Indarno Febo (Il pianto d' Orfeo); Messagier di speranza; O che felice giorno; O pura, o chiara stella

Louise Pierrard, viola da gamba; Flora Papadopoulos, harp; Thomas Dunford, theorbo

Francesco Rasi is one of the most famous singers in music history. He was the first interpreter of the title role in Claudio Monteverdi's groundbreaking opera L'Orfeo. This fact has overshadowed his own compositions. In his time, many performers were also composers in their own right. Although some of his songs have been recorded before, for instance by Nigel Rogers, his considerable oeuvre has been almost completely ignored. The present disc tries to put that right. We get some of his songs, but also pieces by other composers which he is known to have performed as well as pieces he may have known. Through this programme we get a good impression of his musical environment and the developments that influenced him.

Rasi belonged to a family from the high echelons of society, which were later to serve the Medici and Gonzaga courts. Francesco studied at Pisa university and became a pupil of Giulio Caccini in 1594. He was not only educated as a singer, but also at the chitarrone, and he may have regularly accompanied himself. At the end of the century he travelled to Ferrara, Venice, Naples and Poland. In 1598 he entered the service of the Gonzagas in Mantua, where he became a colleague of Monteverdi. Here he interpreted the role of Orpheus in Monteverdi's opera in 1607. Before that he also participated in performances of other operas which take a key role in music history, such as Jacopo Peri's Euridice and Caccini's Il rapimento di Cefalo. Another major role was that of Apollo in Marco da Gagliano's La Dafne in 1608. Emiliano Gonzalez Toro sings the Lamento d'Apollo from this opera. In that same year he participated in Monteverdi's (now lost) opera Arianna. In early 1610 Rasi was sentenced to death in Tuscany for the murder on the servant of his stepmother, but could escape thanks to the protection of the Gonzagas.

Rasi's oeuvre comprises two collections of songs, all but two for tenor (his own voice type), printed in 1608 and 1610 respectively. Another collection has survived in manuscript, Musica da camera et chiesa, which dates from 1612 and was dedicated to the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. They represent the first pieces in the monodic style written above the Alps. Unfortunately, the booklet omits the sources from which the various pieces in the programme have been taken. The names of the composers are those with whom he was familiar, such as Monteverdi, Peri and Gagliano, and, obviously, his teacher Caccini.

The selection of pieces is a mixture of the familiar and the little-known. Among the former is Caccini's Amarilli mia bella, which has evergreen status, but Gonzalez Toro manages to give a very personal interpretation. The same goes for Monteverdi's Quel sguardo sdegnosetto and Gagliano's above-mentioned Lamento, which is one of the better-known pieces from the period. The latter is a purely monodic piece and through-composed; moreover, the lamento was one of the favourite genres of the time, an ideal vehicle for the ideal of Caccini and his followers: the expression of affetti in music. Gonzalez Toro shows here his command of one of the hallmarks of the monody: the art of recitar cantando. This means that the text has to be in the centre all the time, and that tempo, dynamics and ornamentation have to be used in the interest of expression. In that department, Emiliano Gonzalez Toro succeeds with flying colours. One of the features of his singing is his perfect execution of written-out and improvised embellishments. He also adapts the technique of the messa di voce to perfection. He sometimes sings with full force, but regularly turns to pianissimo, when the text requires it. I also like the way he colours his voice, sometimes strong and dark, and then light and utterly flexible. In the strophic songs he creates quite some variety in the ornamentation, whereas he, aptly supported by the instrumentalists, also makes sure that the rhythms, especially in the dance-like songs, come off to full extent. The instrumentalists come up with meaningful contributions; Thomas Dunford, for instance, improvises a passamezzo, one of the most popular bassi ostinati at the time. The inclusion of the only piece of instrumental music by Carlo Gesualdo is most appropriate, as for some time Rasi was in his service.

Rasi sung in the main operas of the time. Gagliano's Lamento is the only opera excerpt in the programme, but Sigismondo d'India's Amico, hai vinto is also dramatic: the text is taken from Torquato Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata and is also part of Monteverdi's famous Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. Gonzalez Toro shows his experience in music for the stage here. The disc ends with a tongue-in-cheek piece by Andrea Falconieri, E vivere e morire, and Gonzalez Toro finds exactly the right approach to this little item.

The only issue here is that the programme is rather short. I would have liked more, and especially pieces from Rasi's own pen, as the songs performed here give no reason to underestimate their musical value. That said, any lover of early 17th-century music will enjoy this disc. It is a worthy tribute to a great singer and composer, who hopefully will be given more attention in the time to come.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

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