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"Breathtaking - A cornetto and a voice entwined"

Hana BlazikovŠ, sopranoa; Bruce Dickey, cornettb; Veronika Skuplikc, Catherina Aglibutd, violin; Mieneke van der Velden, viola da gambae; Jakob Lindberg, theorbo; Kris Verhelst, harpsichord, organ

rec: Nov 23 - 25, 2015, Antwerp, AMUZ
Passacaille - 1020 (© 2016) (76'40")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Giovanni Battista BASSANI (c1650-1716): La morte delusa (sinfonia avanti l'oratorio; Speranza lusinghiera; Se splende in un seno; Error senza dolor)abcd; Sonata I a 3 in a minor, op. 5,12cd [8]; Giacomo CARISSIMI (1605-1674): Summi regis puerperaabcd; Maurizio CAZZATI (1616-1678): Regina coeli laetareabc [7]; NicolÚ CORRADINI (?-1646): Spargite floresabe [4]; Sigismondo D'INDIA (c1582-1629): Dilectus meusab [2]; Langue al vostro languirab [3]; Biagio MARINI (1594-1663): Sonata IIcd [6]; Tarquinio MERULA (c1594-1665): Nigra sumab [5]; Giovanni Pierluigi DA PALESTRINA (c1525-1594), arr Bruce DICKEY (*1948): Dilectus meus mihi [1]; Giovanni Felice SANCES (c160-1679): Tempo fý ch'io t'amaiac; Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725): Emireno, o vero Il consiglio dell'ombra (Non pianger solo dolce usignuolo; Senti, senti ch'io moro; Labbra gradite)abcd; Calliope TSOUPAKI (*1963): Mťlena imi [Nigra sum]abe

Sources: [1] Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Motettorum liber quartus ex Canticis canticorum, 1584; Sigismondo d'India, [2] Novi concentus ecclesiastici, 1610; [3] Le musiche, (II), 1615; [4] NicolÚ Corradini, Il primo libro de canzoni francesi a 4 e alcune suonate, 1624; [5] Tarquinio Merula, Il primo libro de motetti e sonate concertati, 1624; [6] Biagio Marini, Sonate, symphonie (...) e retornelli, 1629; [7] Maurizio Cazzati, Antifone, e letanie concertate, op. 32, 1663; [8] Giovanni Battista Bassani, Sinfonie a due, e tre instromenti, con il basso continuo per l'organo, op. 5, 1683

The cornett takes an important place in the music of the 16th and 17th centuries. In the 16th century, which was dominated by the stile antico, it was part of an ensemble of cornetts and sackbuts which supported the voices, playing colla voce. Around 1600 the seconda prattica emerged. One of its features was a greater independence of instruments: composers started to write vocal music with separate parts for instruments. Another feature was instrumental virtuosity: canzonas and sonatas were written for one or a couple of instruments and bc, sometimes even for a particular instrument, such as the violin and the cornett. The latter was especially popular for its vocal character. That made it an ideal partner for the voice in sacred and secular pieces for solo voice. The present disc offers a fine choice from this repertoire.

There are various similarities between the voice and the cornett. Both are able to produce a variety of colours and have a wide dynamic range. Their agility and their capability of a precise and detailed articulation made them both ideally suited to perform music which often included extensive virtuosic coloratura and ornamentation. The largest part of the programme is devoted to pieces from the first half of the 17th century, the heyday of the cornett. It is a mixture of well-known and lesser-known composers.

It opens with a piece which was published in the 1660, from the pen of Maurizio Cazzati, who from 1657 until his death was maestro di cappella of San Petronio in Bologna. Regina caeli laetare is one of the four seasonal Marian antiphons of the Blessed Virgin Mary, sung in the Liturgy of the Hours. Cazzati's setting is scored for solo voice, cornett, violin and bc. Much earlier NicolÚ Corradini wrote Spargite flores which is from a collection of 1624. Corradini was born in Cremona where he worked all his life as an organist. In this sacred concerto the voice is partnered by one high instrument (cornett or violin) and a low instrument, either the sackbut or the violone. The latter refers to a bass violin; this part is played here on the viola da gamba.

Sigismondo d'India has become best-known for his madrigals, partly in the stile antico and partly in the modern concertante style, as well as his monodic songs and duets. One of these duets is Langue al vostro languir which is for two sopranos and bc. Here the second vocal part is performed at the cornett. In his liner-notes Bruce Dickey states that the use of the cornett as a substitute for the voice is "equally credible" as the playing of nearly any instrumental part on it, even if another instrument is mentioned in the score. I would have liked to see some evidence of that. The practice of substituting a voice by an instrument is well known from the 16th century, but at that time the connection between text and music was much looser. That said, Heinrich SchŁtz suggested the substitution of one of the voices in the 'solo parts' in his Weihnachtshistorie by an instrument. Whatever the historical truth is, the cornett is the ideal 'alternative' for the voice and its ideal partner in this duet as in the sacred concerto Dilectus meus, one of the relatively few sacred works by D'India.

The same text was set in the stile antico by Palestrina. Such motets - as well as madrigals or chansons - were often used for passaggi in the decades around 1600. Performers usually took the upper part and turned it into a virtuosic showpiece. A number of them were published, especially as part of treatises on the art of ornamentation. Bruce Dickey decided to play his own passaggi. Once again the vocal qualities of the cornett are convincingly demonstrated here.

Tarquinio Merula was one of the most innovative composers of his time. He was one of the first to write sacred concertos with string accompaniment. His first collection of sacred music was his Op. 6, a book with motetti e sonate concertati (1624). The word concertati not only refers to the sonatas but also the motets, as Nigra sum shows, which is for soprano, cornett and bc. Many of Merula's works are technically demanding, both for voices and for instruments. Giacomo Carissimi can be considered the founder of the oratorio. He worked in Rome and attracted many pupils from across Europe. Summi regis puerpera is the piece with the largest scoring in the programme: soprano, cornett, two violins and bc. This piece shows the increasing importance of the violin in vocal music. The same goes for Tempo fý ch'io t'amain, a madrigal by Giovanni Felice Sances, scored for soprano, violin and bc. The latter part is original for the violin, not a vocal part performed instrumentally.

Whereas the violin became increasingly important, the cornett gradually lost its status. In 1698 the San Marco in Venice where so much music had been performed with the participation of cornetts the last cornett player was dismissed in 1698 and replaced by an oboist. However, the role of the cornett was not completely played out. We should not forget that Johann Sebastian Bach still used it in some of his sacred works. The present disc ends with several examples of the cornett playing a part in vocal music from around 1700. La morte delusa is an oratorio which was written by several composers, among them Giacomo Antonio Perti and Alessandro Scarlatti. We hear four extracts which were written by Giovanni Battista Bassani who worked in several places, such as Bologna, Ferrara and Modena. In the latter town the manuscript of this oratorio, first performed in Milan in 1703, has been preserved. Scarlatti was a prolific composer of oratorios and operas. One of the latter is Emireno, o vero Il consiglio dell'ombra which dates from 1697 and was first performed in Naples. From this work three arias have been taken, written for two different characters.

In addition to these vocal items we hear some instrumental works in which the violins take centre stage. Bassani's Sonata a 3 is one of his very few instrumental works and was probably intended for violins. The instrumental works by Biagio Marini can mostly be played on several instruments to the choice of the performers. The Sonata II of 1629 is played here on two violins.

The programme is extended by a piece which was specifically written for this project by the contemporary composer Calliope Tsoupaki, of Greek birth and now living in the Netherlands. She has set the well-known text from the Song of Songs, Nigra sum, but then in Greek. It is scored for soprano, cornett and viola da gamba. I don't care very much about this kind of stuff and usually skip such tracks, but others may have different ideas. Those who don't like contemporary music are probably interested to know that it takes almost nine minutes.

That should not put them off and certainly not discourage them to purchase this disc. It lives up to its title: both the music and the performances are breathtaking. Bruce Dickey is the pioneer of cornett playing and still the best around. His playing is brilliant, technically and in regard to interpretation. Hana Blazikova is a perfect match: her voice is the ideal companion to the cornett; the two instruments truly entwine. Thanks to BlazikovŠ's agility and her outstanding articulation, and not to forget her subtle dynamic shading, the texts and the affetti come off to the full. The coloratura and the ornaments are perfectly executed by both artists. The other performers are equal partners. This disc is a strong contender for my list of discs of the year.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Bruce Dickey
Veronika Skuplik

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