musica Dei donum

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Diminutions from Italy

[I] "Viola Appassionata - Italian virtuosic music of the 16th & 17th centuries for viola da gamba and harp"
Ensemble Art d'Echo
Dir: Juliane Laake
rec: Feb 20 - 22, 2017, Berlin, Andreaskirche
Querstand - VKJK 1710 (© 2017) (61'10")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Giovanni BASSANO (1560/61-1617): Susanne ung jour (Lassus); Girolamo DALLA CASA (c1550-1601): Qual è più grand' o Amore (Rore); Andrea FALCONIERI (c1585-1656): Brando dicho el Melo; Canzona La suave melodia - Corrente; Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): Canzona I; Se l'aura spira; Toccata; Adam JARZEBSKY (c1590-1649): Cantate Domino; Susanna videns; Diego ORTIZ (c1510-1570): O felici occhi miei (Arcadelt); Recercada II; Recercada III; Bernardo PASQUINI (1637-1710): Follia (arr Art d'Echo); Riccardo ROGNONI (bef 1550-1620): Ancor che col partire (Rore); Cipriano DE RORE (c1515-1565): Ancor che col partire; Giovanni TRABACI (c1575-1647): Ancidetemi pur

Juliane Laake, treble & bass viol; Johanna Oelmüller Rasch, cello; Maximilian Ehrhardt, harp

[II] "Bassano, Bovicelli & Co: Passaggi"
Duo Laudino
rec: May 17 - 19, 2017, Spay (D), Alte Kirche
Duo Laudino (51'23")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Giovanni BASSANO (1560/61-1617): La Rose (anon); Tota pulchra es (Palestrina); Giovanni BASSANO & Girolamo DALLA CASA (c1550-1601): Signor mio caro (Rore); Giovanni BASSANO & Francesco ROGNONI TAEGGIO (c1585-c1624): Pulchra es (Palestrina); Giovanni Battista BOVICELLI (c1550-c1594): Io son ferito (Palestrina); Diego ORTIZ (c1510-1570): Doulce memoire (Sandrin); Giovanni Pierluigi DA PALESTRINA (c1525-1594): Io son ferito (dim: Martina Binnig); Tota pulchra es; Cipriano DE RORE (c1515-1565): Signor mio caro (dim: Martina Binnig); Pierre SANDRIN (c1490-c1561): Doulce memoire; Matthaeus WAISSEL (c1540-1602): Phantasia; Praeambulum

Martina Binnig, transverse flute, violone; Yuval Dvoran, lute

Instrumental virtuosity is mostly associated with the baroque era, which came into being around 1600, known as the stile nuovo. In the previous century composers wrote mostly music for an ensemble of instruments, in which all the parts were treated on equal footing, according to the rules of counterpoint. However, that does not mean that no technically demanding music was written. The second half of the 16th century saw the birth of a genre, known as diminutions, in Italian passaggi. In most of these diminutions the composer takes one line from a vocal piece and adds ornaments or breaks up the line. The other voices are played as written by the composer, usually on a chordal instrument: keyboard, harp or a plucked instrument.

There are two differences with the instrumental music of the stile nuovo. Firstly, diminutions are arrangements of vocal music, whereas the sonatas and canzonas from the early 17th century are largely independent of vocal models. Secondly, composers of the 17th century often composed their music for specific instruments, like the violin or the cornett, and explored their features. In contrast, diminutions can mostly be played on any instrument, to the choice of the performer.

Diminutions were a very popular genre during the late 16th century and the first half of the 17th. They were mostly improvised and only a relatively small number of such pieces have been preserved. Most of them are included in treatises. The publication of such treatises not only bears witness to the popularity of the genre. Juliane Laake, in the liner-notes to her recording of this repertoire, suggests that those who improvised diminutions, did not always show much respect for the original compositions. Treatises were probably not only intended to show how to improvise, but also - maybe even more so - to show how not to do it, and to teach the reader a little more respect for the composer and his work.

Laake focuses on one particular kind of diminutions: 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.

The programme Juliane Laake has recorded includes pieces by the most prominent representatives of the art of diminution. Diego Ortiz may well have been the first who published a treatise. His Trattado de glosas came from the press in Rome in 1553. In contrast to what one may expect, the reader is not expected to improvise or to add ornaments at sight. Instead Ortiz offers many written-out ornaments. Although this treatise is intended for string instruments, it is also useful for players of other instruments, such as the recorder.

Girolamo Dalla Casa is one of the most prominent composers of diminutions. In 1584 he published his treatise Il vero modo di diminuir, which includes a number of examples. He is also the first, who used the term viola bastarda. Riccardo Rognoni's treatise Passaggi per potersi essecitare dates from 1592. His diminutions on Ancor che col partire, the most famous madrigal by Cipriano de Rore, is one of the most virtuosic pieces of its kind.

Adam Jarzebsky was from Poland, and in 1615 he visited Italy, probably to broaden his horizon. The lowest part of the two pieces recorded here are called bastarda. His piece with the sacred title Cantate Domino is in fact based on Palestrina's madrigal Vestiva i colli. Juliane Laake suggests that the composer chose the sacred title for reasons of safety. However, it is quite possible that Palestrina's madrigal existed in a parody with a sacred text. That was common practice at the time.

The performers have added some pieces of a different character, such as the variations on Follia by Bernardo Pasquini, originally written for keyboard. It ends with some strongly chromatic phrases. Andrea Falconieri was a prolific composer of secular vocal music, but has become best known for his collection of instrumental music of 1650, from which the items on this disc are taken.

The three performers deliver excellent performances of this compelling programme. Many pieces are technically demanding, and the artists deal with impressive ease with their requirements. Juliane Laake is an animated performer who explores the features of the music to the full. It was a splendid idea to use a harp for the accompaniment, because of its colour palette and its dynamic range. The booklet includes the lyrics of the pieces arranged by the composers, which is a nice gesture.

The second disc includes diminutions of the more 'conventional' kind: the ornamentation of a particular line of a vocal work. However, two things are particularly interesting here. The first is that we have a demonstration that diminutions are not strictly instrument-related: Martina Binnig plays the transverse flute and the violone, but the pieces are not fundamentally different. Secondly, she plays her own diminutions on pieces which were often the subject of such a treatment around 1600.

The programme reveals what kind of pieces were particularly popular at the time: Palestrina's madrigals and motets - the latter especially those on texts from the Song of Solomon - and Rore's madrigals as well as chansons by Sandrin. It was a nice idea to play some of those pieces in their original form on a single instrument.

The performances ar just as good as those by Juliane Laake and her colleagues. The use of two different instruments creates some nice variety, although the music is such that this was hardly needed. Even so, the use of a transverse flute was a particularly good idea, as it is not that often used in this kind of repertoire. Yuval Dvoran delivers excellent support and contributes some solos, written by Matthaeus Waissel, a composer who is completely new to me.

Although this disc seems to be released by the ensemble itself, I have found several sources on the internet where it can be ordered. The disc is well worth the effort.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Art d'Echo

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