musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Secular music from Middle Ages and Renaissance

[I] "Ossesso - Italian Madrigals about Love and Affliction"
Ratas del viejo Mundo
Dir: Floris De Rycker
rec: July 17 - 20, 2018, Montréal-du-Gers (F). Notre-Dame de l'Assomption de Luzanet
Ramée - RAM 1808 (© 2018) (53'40")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list

anon: Bassa danza; Chiara fontana; Su la rivera; Jacques ARCADELT (c1507-1568): Ahimè, dov' è'l bell viso; [1] Ivo BARRY (fl 1525-1550), arr Bálint BAKFARK (1526/30-1576): Pace non trovo; Juan Ambrosio DALZA (fl 1508): Piva; DONATO da Firenze (fl 1350-1370): I' fugi' giai binach'ucciel; FRANCESCO (Canova) da Milano (1497-1543): Ricercare; Michelangelo GALILEI (1575-1631): Toccata; Vincenzo GALILEI (c1525/30-1591): Contrapunto; Duo tutti di fantasia; Carlo GESUALDO da Venosa (1566-1613): Già piansi nel dolore [10]; GUGLIELMO EBREO da Pesaro (c1420-c1484): Amoroso; JACOPO da Bologna (fl 1340-1360): O cieco mondo; Orlandus LASSUS (1530/32-1594): Vivo sol di speranza [5]; Philippus DE MONTE (1521-1603): Di mie dogliose note; Alonso MUDARRA (c1510-1580): O gelosia; trad (Friuli): Scjaraçule maraçule; Bartolomeo TROMBONCINO (c1470-after 1534): Se ben hor non scopro il foco; Hubert WAELRANT (c1517-1595): Vorria morire; Giaches DE WERT (1535-1596): Giunto alla tomba [6]; Adrian WILLAERT (c1490-1562): I vidi in terra angelici costumi [4]

Michaela Riener, soprano; Soetkin Baptist, contralto; Tomà Maxé, bass; Indrè Jurgeleviciuté, voice, kankles; Elisabeth Seitz, psalterion; Floris De Rycker, cittern, lute

[II] "Amor, Fortuna et Morte"
Profeti della Quinta
Dir: Elam Rotem
rec: April 2018, Waldenburg (CH), Studio Waldenburg
Pan Classics - PC 10396 (© 2019) (64'21")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Carlo GESUALDO da Venosa (1566-1613): Occhi, del mio cor vita [9]; Se la mia morte brami [10]; Giovanni Girolamo KAPSPERGER (c1580-1651): Toccata VI [11]; Scipione LACORCIA (c1590-1620): Ahi, tu piangi [13]; Luzzasco LUZZASCHI (1545-1607): Ahi, crude sorte mia [8]; Tu ribello d'Amor [7]; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Lamento d'Arianna (SV 107) [12]; Lamento della Ninfa (SV 163) [14]; Zefiro torna e'l bel tempo rimena (SV 108) [12]; Cipriano DE RORE (1515/16-1565): Amor, ben mi credevo [2]; Ancor che col partire [2]; Datemi pace [3]; Mia benigna fortuna [3]; Schiet'arbuscel [3]; Sicut cervus desiderat (arr Ori Harmelin)

Doron Schleifer, Roman Melish, alto; Lior Leibovici, Dan Dunkelblum, tenor; Elam Rotem, bass; Ori Harmelin, lute, archlute

Sources: [1] Jacques Arcadelt, Il primo libro di madrigali, 1539; Cipriano de Rore, [2] Il primo libro de madrigali, 1550; [3] Il secondo libro de madrigali, 1557; [4] Adrian Willaert, Musica Nova, 1559; [5] Orlandus Lassus, Il primo libro di madrigali, insieme alcuni madrigali d’altri autori, 1560; [6] Giaches de Wert, Il settimo libro de madrigali, 1581; Luzzasco Luzzaschi, [7] Quarto libro di madrigali, 1594; [8] Quinto libro di madrigali, 1595; Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa, [9] Madrigali libro quinto, 1611; [10] Madrigali libro sesto, 1611; [11] Giovanni Girolamo Kapsperger, Libro I d'intavolatura di lauto, 1611; [12] Claudio Monteverdi, Il sesto libro de madrigali con uno dialogo, 1614; [13] Scipione Lacorcia, Il secondo libro de madrigali, 1616; [14] Claudio Monteverdi, Madrigali guerrieri, et amorosi con alcuni opuscoli in genere rappresentativo ... Libro ottavo, 1638

However much has changed sylistically in the course of history, the main subject of secular music has always been love, ranging from ecstatic happiness to deep sorrow, and even murder. The title of the second disc under review here, sums it up rather well: "Love, Fortune and Death". Two composers represented on the first disc committed murder: Tromboncino and Gesualdo. Love in its various forms and manifestations is the thread of the programme under the title of 'Ossesso'. It holds together a series of pieces which are musically very different, and this results in much variation, but also a lack of coherence. Moreover, they are not ordered chronologically, and as a result the listener plunges from the early renaissance into the 16th century and vice versa.

The liner-notes are not very helpful in explaining the reasoning behind the selection of pieces. There is also no information about the composers, although several of them may hardly ring a bell with even the most ardent and knowledgeable lover of early music. Donato da Firenze and Guglielmo Ebreo da Pesaro are not exactly household names. Even New Grove does not know Ivo Barry. Hubert Waelrant is not entirely unknown, but one won't find his name very often in programmes of early music ensembles.

Obviously, the way the various texts are set by the composers is quite different. In the earliest pieces, the number of parts is rather small, often just three, and it seems that they were mostly performed by a solo voice and instruments. The line-up of the ensemble is perfectly suited to the performance of this repertoire, and this is also the most satisfying part of this disc. The 16th-century madrigals are mostly for four or five voices, and considering the number of singers in the ensemble, in some cases at least one voice has to be performed instrumentallly. The participation of instruments in such pieces seems questionable. They could be performed by one voice and instruments, but a mixture of voices and instruments seems less plausible. Especially in Già pansi nel dolore by Carlo Gesualdo I found the participation of plucked instruments musically unsatisfying. Considering that instruments hardly play a role in Gesualdo's oeuvre, this way of performing seems also historically rather questionable. Another debatable performance is that of the anonymous Bassa danza, in which the lowest voice is vocalized by the bass. I can't see any reason for that.

Most of the pieces in the programme are intended for performance in rather intimate surroundings. From that perspective it was a bad idea to record this programme in a pretty reverberant church. Especially in the case of the madrigals, this does not do the music any good. Subtleties in the connection between text and music don't come off as well as in a more intimate acoustic. That said, they are sung rather well. One of the nice surprises of this disc is Di mie dogliose note by Philippus de Monte, a prolific composer of madrigals, whose oeuvre is greatly underexposed on disc. This madrigal strikes through the use of strong dissonances.

The nice singing and playing compensate for the shortcomings I have pointed out, in addition to the short playing time. Early music lovers should investigate this disc, which in several ways is rather unconventional.

The second disc spins on the thread of the first in that it shows the development of the madrigal in the second half of the 16th and the first half of the 17th century. However, the Profeti della Quinta start with madrigals by Cipriano de Rore, who was the main composer of madrigals in the first half of the 16th century. He was ahead of his time in that he aimed at a graphic expression of the text and its emotions in his music. No wonder that Claudio Monteverdi considered him the first who represented the ideals he himself implemented, although partly with different means.

Rore is quite a famous name, but his madrigals are not often performed. The best-known of them is Ancor che col partire, which was often taken as the subject of diminutions. However, as the piece is of a rather positive nature, one does not hear here any of the harmonic peculiarities which manifest themselves in the more dramatic and sorrowful madrigals, such as Datemi pace and Mia benigna fortuna. In the latter, the second section is a particular good example of Rore's text expression: "Cruel bitter inescapable death, my reason for never being content, but rather for spending all my life in tears". And Amor, ben mi credovo ends suddenly on the word "spento" ([my life is] extinguished).

Luzzasco Luzzaschi, who was one of Rore's pupils, belongs to the next generation. At the end of his life he experienced the emergence of the new style, and in 1601 he published a collection of madrigals for one to three sopranos and basso continuo. However, most of his madrigals are in the stile antico, although in his later madrigals the various parts are of a more declamatory nature. The two madrigals selected for this recording show how he followed in Rore's footsteps in his treatment of the text. Ahi, cruda sorte mia includes some harsh dissonances, for instance at the closing lines: "Say, O you who listen, is there a greater torment among the torments of my tyrant Love?"

One of Luzzaschi's pupils was Carlo Gesualdo, but whereas the former's madrigals with basso continuo are a link to Monteverdi, Gesualdo never felt attracted to the stile nuovo, but rather confined himself to the strict use of counterpoint. However, his use of harmony for expressive reasons, and especially the exploration of chromaticism and dissonances is one of the main features of his compositional style. This finds its culmination in his last two madrigal books. Two pieces from the latter are performed here. Occhi, del mio cor vita is an eloquent specimen of his style.

Composers of a later generation from Naples - where Gesualdo was born and to which his family had close ties - followed in his footsteps, but went ever further. Harry van der Kamp, director of the Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam, once characterised this repertoire as "volcanic music". Scipione Lacorcia is one of these composers; his madrigal Ahi, tu piangi is quite long, considering that it consists of only seven lines. One of its features is a very detailed treatment of the text. However, what is most notable is his use of harmony. This piece could easily have been written in our time, as it seems to lack any tonal coherence. One won't find such harsh dissonances in Gesualdo's music, let alone in that of other composers of his or previous generations. A piece like this raises the question whether this really serves the expression of the text. One gets the impression that the dissonances are almost an aim in itself, dissonances for dissonances' sake. I personally find the madrigals by Rore and Luzzasco far more expressive, delivering a much more incisive communication of the text and its affetti. Even Gesualdo is a borderline case.

Claudio Monteverdi represents the second line in the history of the madrigal. In his last books, he uses dialogues and other theatrical devices. Some pieces are quite close to opera. A good example is the Lamento della Ninfa, a dialogue between soprano and three lower voices. The sixth book also includes operatic elements, but of a different kind. Its most famous piece is the Lamento d'Arianna, the only extant part of Monteverdi's opera L'Arianna. It is mostly performed in its original version for solo voice and basso continuo, but in the composer's time it was already so famous that he decided to arrange it as a madrigal for five voices. It is a perfect example of the theatrical and declamatory style of Monteverdi's late madrigals. A further specimen is Zefiro torna, also from the sixth book. Especially in the closing lines Monteverdi uses harmony for an expression of the text.

Over the years I have heard several excellent madrigal ensembles and reviewed recordings by, for instance, La Compagnia del Madrigale. However, there is something special about Profeti della Quinta. It consists of only male singers; the upper part is sung by Doron Schleifer, who is ranked among the countertenors in the booklet, but has the tessitura of a male soprano. The soprano part in Monteverdi's Lamento della Ninfa is quite demanding, as it includes some high notes. Schleifer has no problems hitting them, but overall I think this part had better been sung by a female soprano, as the text is often not that clearly intelligible. Fortunately, otherwise the upper part comes off quite well, and that includes the one in the Lamento d'Arianna. From a historical point of view there is no objection whatsoever to a performance by only male voices.

Overall, I greatly appreciate these performances, which are very expressive. The singers pay much attention to the text and are not afraid to make use of the messa di voce, an essential tool of singers in Monteverdi's time. The declamatory episodes come off perfectly. The inclusion of pieces by Rore and Luzzaschi is very welcome, as they are not that well represented on disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Profeti della Quinta
Ratas del viejo Mundo

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