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[A] "O felice morire"
Ensemble Phoenix Munich

rec: Nov 2007, Starnberg-Percha, Malteserstift St. Jakob
Harmonia mundi - HMC 901999 (© 2008) (74'03")

[B] "Giulio Caccini and his circle"
La Nuova Musica
Dir: David Bates

rec: Jan 8 - 10, 2007, Great Munden (Herts, UK), St Nicholas' Church
Somm - SOMMCD 083 (© 2008) (69'20")

[A] Giulio CACCINI (1551-1618): Amor ch'attendi [2]; Chi mi confort'ahimè [1]; Dalla porta d'oriente [2]; Deh chi d'alloro [2]; Io, che l'età solea viver nel fango [2]; Muove si dolce [1]; Girolamo DALLA CASA (c1543-1601): Io canterei d'amor [3]; Andrea FALCONIERI (c1585-1656): Armilla ingrata [5]; Filli vezzosa [5]; Sigismondo D'INDIA (1582-1629): Che farai Meliseo? [6]; Giovanni Girolamo KAPSBERGER (c1580-1651): Pietà di chi si more [8]; Toccata V [7]; Stefano LANDI (1587-1639): Se tu mi lasci perfida tuo danno [9]; Superbi colli [9]; Biagio MARINI (1594-1663): O vagha Tortorella [10]; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Io che nell'otio nacqui [14]; Giovanni PULIASCHI (?-1622): Locar sopra gl'abissi [15]
[B] Giulio CACCINI: Amarilli mia bella [1]; Amor, io parto [1]; Dolcissimo sospiro [1]; Dovro dunque morire [1]; Filli, mirando il cielo [1]; Fortunato augellino [1]; Il Rapimento di Cefalo, opera: Ineffabil ardore [1]; Movetevi a pietà [1]; Non più guerra, pietate [1]; Perfidissimo volto [1]; Queste lagrim'amare [1]; Sfogava con le stelle [1]; Vedro'l mio sol [1]; Bellerofonte CASTALDI (1580-1649): Tasteggio soave [4]; Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): Toccata X; Giovanni Girolamo KAPSBERGER (c1580-1651): Toccata [7]; Claudio MONTEVERDI: Cruda Amarilli [13]; E così poco a poco [13]; Non più guerra, pietate [12]; Perfidissimo volto [11]; Quel augellin, che canta [12]; Sfogava con le stelle [12]; Peter PHILIPS (1560-1628): Amarilli Di Julio Romano;

(Sources: Caccini, [1] Le nuove musiche, 1602; [2] Le nuove musiche e nuove maniera di sciverle, 1614; [3] Dalla Casa, Il vero modo di diminuir, libro I, 1584; [4] Castaldi, Capricci a 2 stromenti cioè tiorba e tiorbino e per sonar solo varie sorti di balli e fantasticarie, 1622; [5] Falconieri, Libro primo di villanelle, 1616; [6] D'India, Le musiche da cantar solo, 1609; Kapsberger, [7] Il libro primo d'intavolatura di chitarrone, 1604; [8] Libro secondo di arie passegiate, 1623; [9] Landi, Arie a una voce, 1620; [10] Marini, Madrigaletti, op. 9, 1635; Monteverdi, [11] Il terzo libro de madrigali, 1592; [12] Il quarto libro de madrigali, 1603; [13] Il quinto libro de madrigali, 1605; [14] Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi, libro VIII, 1638 [15] Puliaschi, Gemma musicale, 1618)

[EPM] Joel Frederiksen, coloratura basso profondo, archlute; Domen Marincic, viola da gamba; Reinhild Waldek, harp; Axel Wolf, chitarrone, theorbo, guitar
[LNM] Elizabeth Weisberg, soprano; Rachael Lloyd, mezzosoprano; David Bates, alto; Kevin Kyle, Simon Wall, tenor; James Arthur, bass-baritone; Richard Sweeney, chitarrone; Joseph McHardy, harpsichord

Giulio Caccini was the key figure in the emergence of the new style which we call 'baroque'. In particular his view on the relationship between text and music had a lasting effect on the way music was composed. Whereas in the 'stile antico' - the polyphony of the renaissance - the music was predominant over the text, Caccini stated that it should be the other way round. His ideal was the 'recitar cantando', a speechlike way of singing, which was more able to move the soul than the 'old style'. This ideal found its expression in particular in the monody, a vocal piece for one voice and basso continuo.

Caccini himself published two collections with monodies, but other composers followed in his footsteps. Joel Frederiksen has made an interesting choice from the large repertoire of madrigals and arias for solo voice and basso continuo. One aspect of Frederiksen's disc is especially interesting. A number of pieces were specifically written for the bass, or - as Cacccini put it - "a tenor who explores the bass range". The two pieces for this kind of voice from his collection Nuove Musiche of 1602 are Muove si dolce and Chi mi cornfort'ahimè which in Caccini's time were sung by the bass Melchior Palantrotti who also participated in the first performance of Jacopo Peri's opera Euridice. One of the composers represented here, Giovanni Puliaschi, was himself a bass, and wrote pieces for himself to sing. These songs are very virtuosic and require a remarkably large range, regularly two and a lalf octave, whereas in other pieces the range doesn't extend one and a half octave. But it isn't just vocal pyrotechnics which are required here: the composers deliberately exploit the lowest range of the bass voice for expressive reasons.

Another aspect of this disc which is noteworthy is that Joel Frederiksen accompanies himself on the archlute, and this also has historical precedents. It is very likely the above-mentioned bass Palantrotti was also a lutist himself, and in that capacity he probably has accompanied himself too. And Caccini also was able to play the lute, so one can't exclude that he did the same. The other instruments are brought in where it is appropriate. The programme has been well put together, although proably a couple of instrumental pieces had given this disc a bit more variety. Most vocal items contain pretty heavy stuff, although there are some lighter pieces, like Caccini's Amor ch'attendi.

In order to express the meaning of the text and to move the soul of the listener it wasn't enough to just sing the text as written down. One of Caccini's principles of performance was the so-called sprezzatura, the flexible approach to rhythm and tempo. Another important aspect was the use of dynamics: crescendi and diminuendi on single notes - and especially long notes - was an important tool to express emotion. One of the rhetorical figures which was frequently used was the 'esclamazio', the sudden swelling or fading of the voice. And then, of course, there was the use of ornaments which wasn't only a way to express emotions but also to surprise and please the audience.

It is essential in every performance of this kind of repertoire that the artists are able to meet these challenges. Joel Frederiksen comes a long way in this direction. He hasn't a voice I immediately fall for; I have heard many voices which I find more beautiful and pleasing to the ear. It is his declamatory skills which I find most impressive and which reflect the ideal of recitar cantando which Caccini advocated. The text is delivered with great accuracy, and the sometimes exuberant ornamentation is never over the top. He also handles the wide range of some pieces pretty well. If he has any problems it is at the top notes: as long as the volume is limited they sound very well, but at some moments when he tries to sing them forte he sounds a little uncomfortable. In general his dynamic range is a little limited: in the last piece on this disc, Io che nell'otio nacqui, passages with references to war, like "warlike trumpets" and "clash of weapons" his performance is just a bit too tame.

All in all, this is a most interesting recording, because of the repertoire in general, the specific choice of pieces and the high level of performance. The booklet contains informative programme notes, an introduction by Anthony Rooley, some remarks about the performance practice by Joel Frederiksen, and - as to be expected from Harmonia mundi - all lyrics with translations in English, French and German.

Cacicni's aesthetic ideals also found their way into the polyphonic madrigal of his days. In particular Monteverdi's later madrigals are evidence of that. And even the instrumental music of that time shows the traces of Caccini's ideals in vocal music. Therefore it makes sense to combine Caccini's monodies with madrigals from Monteverdi's books 3, 4 and 5 and instrumental pieces for chitarrone and harpsichord, as does La Nuova Musica.

It has been a long time ago since I have heard British performances of this kind of repertoire. In the 1970s and 1980s the interpretation of the music by the likes of Caccini and Monteverdi was dominated by English musicians and ensembles, like Nigel Rogers - who played a key role in the promotion of the Italian monody - and the Consort of Musicke. But when in the 1990s Italian ensembles like Concerto Italiano bursted onto the scene and presented their interpretation of their own musical heritage performances by British groups were considered by many too bland and too polished. Nowadays the interpretation of this kind of repertoire is clearly dominated by the Italians.

I didn't know La Nuova Musica and I was curious to find out in what way they have been influenced by the Italian recordings of recent years. To my astonishment I have not been able to detect any influence at all. I dare even to say that the performances of Monteverdi's madrigals by the Consort of Musicke were more expressive than what La Nuova Musica is offering here. And the interpretations of Caccini's monodies by, for instance, Nigel Rogers and Catherine Bott, are much more in line with what the composer expected than those by the members of La Nuova Musica.

Far too little of Caccini's ideals I referred to above has been realised. There is little dynamic contrast, and something like the 'messa di voce' - the crescendo on a single note - is virtually absent. There is too little rhythmic flexibility or differentiation of tempo; the articulation is generally rather unsatisfactory. These performances are far off from the 'recitar cantando' which I referred to above. In return we get something which this repertoire definitely does not ask for: a pretty wide vibrato from most singers - David Bates is the exception - which undermines the ensemble in the madrigals by Monteverdi. The performance of his madrigal Non più guerra puts us back to the 1970s.

Most disappointing about this recording is the lack of expression. It is really beyond me how a line like "He gave vent to his grief, a hell of love, talking to the stars under the night sky" (Sfogava con le stelle) can sound so flat and uninvolved. Or, to give one other example, the performance of "No more war! Pity, pity on me, ye lovely eyes!" (Non più guerra) is pale and boring. And there are many recordings of the evergreen Amarilli mia bella which are much more expressive. The instrumental pieces don't come off really better: the pieces for chitarrone are done rather well, but the harpsichord pieces are neither fish nor fowl.

I have tried to find anything positive to say, but I can't. Even the booklet has serious shortcomings: the lyrics of three pieces by Monteverdi are not printed (E così poco a poco, Cruda Amarilli, Quel Augellin). In the list of the scoring of the various pieces tracks 8 and 9 are swapped: Monteverdi's Non più guerra isn't sung by James Arthur, but by the ensemble. And in track 18 five singers are mentioned, but just one is singing.
But in the light of the level of these performances it doesn't really matter. This disc is bland and boring - avoid it!

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

Relevant links:

Joel Frederiksen
La Nuova Musica

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