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Andrea FALCONIERI (c1585 - 1656): "Dolci Sospiri"

Jan Van Elsacker, tenora
United Continuo Ensemble
Dir: Thomas C. Boysen

rec: Feb 18 - 20, 2011, Berlin-Wannsee, Andreaskirche
Raumklang - RK 3103 (Š 2013) (65'55")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - abridged translations: E/D/F
Cover & track-list
Score Il primo libro di canzone

Alemana detta la Ciriculia; Battaglia de Barabaso yerno de Satanas; Begli occhi lucentia; Bella fanciulla dal' viso rosatoa; Brando dicho el Melo; Canciona dicha la preciosa, echa para Don Enrico Butler; Cara č la rosaa; Corrente dicha la Cuella; Dolci sospiria; Fantasia echa para el muy Reverendo Padre Falla; Folias echa para mi Seņora Doņa Tarolilla de Garallenos; Gallarda; Il Rosso, Brando; L'Eroica; La Suave Melodia y Su Corrente; Non pių d'amorea; Nudo arcieroa; O bellissimi capellia; Passacalle; Pastorella ove t'ascondia; Quando il labro ti bacioa; Rimirate luci ingratea; Se ben rosea; Sinfonia quarta; Su Gallarda

Jörg Meder, viola da gamba; Marie Bournisien, harp; Thomas C. Boysen, theorbo, guitar, vihuela de mano; Thor-Harald Johnsen, guitar, chitarra battente; Bernward Jaime Rudolph, guitar
with: Bettina Boysen, recorder; Veronika Skuplik, Claudia Mende, violin

Andrea Falconieri is certainly not an unknown quantity. His name regularly appears in track-lists of discs and on the programmes of concerts. Some of his compositions are quite popular, especially Folias echa para mi Seņora Doņa Tarolilla de Garallenos, Battaglia de Barabaso yerno de Satanas and Brando dicho el Melo which are also represented on the present disc. This is not the first disc entirely devoted to his oeuvre, but his instrumental works are much better represented than his vocal oeuvre, and that makes this release especially interesting.

Falconieri was born in Naples and died there. At that time the city was already one of the main music centres in Italy. At the time he was born composers such as Carlo Gesualdo and Ascanio Mayone were active in the Naples region. They are still famous for their experiments, especially in regard to harmony. Falconieri was educated as a lutenist, and he worked in this capacity at the court in Parma from 1604. In 1610 he succeeded Santino Garsi as official court lutenist; Garsi may have been also his teacher. Four years later he left Parma without permission, probably for Mantua, and then settled in Florence where he entered the service of the Medici family. In 1620/21 he seems to have moved to Modena where he worked as a player of the chitarrone and the chitarriglia alla spagnola. From 1621 to 1628 he travelled through Spain and France, and returned in 1629 to Parma as a chitarrone player. After some years he went to Genoa where he acted as a music teacher. He spent the last stage of his life in Naples: in 1639 he was appointed as lutenist in the royal chapel and succeeded Giovanni Maria Trabaci as maestro di cappella in 1647; he held this position until his death.

Although he was a professional player of the chitarrone and the guitar, relatively few pieces for these instruments from his pen have come down to us. This could be explained from the fact that players of plucked instruments - like keyboard players - mostly improvised. Ten collections of music were printed during his lifetime, all of them between 1616 and 1619, except his only book of instrumental pieces, Il primo libro di canzone [etc] of 1650. This has become his best-known work from which the pieces mentioned above are taken. This disc includes a number of other pieces in various scorings, incuding one or two violins and recorder.

The vocal items are hardly known. The Libro primo di villanelle was published in Rome in 1616, the Musiche ... libro sexto in Venice in 1619. On both title pages Falconieri refers to alfabeto per la chitarra spagnola. This was a new type of chordal notation invented a few years before by the Florentine composer and singer Girolamo Montesardo. "Montesardo's system - also called 'alfabeto notation' - assigns each of the twenty-seven chords to a specific letter whose case indicates the various note values: upper case letters stand for double the value of lower case letters. For the specification of the letters, Montesardo made do with just one line; if the chord symbol is above this line, the chord is to be strummed with an upward motion; if it is below the line, the hand motion is downward. This notation (...) enjoyed great popularity among the guitarists of the seventeenth century" (booklet).

It is this notation which Falconieri uses for the accompaniment of his vocal pieces. The first collection includes villanelle, a genre of popular songs which was especially in vogue in Naples from the mid-16th to the mid-17th century. These pieces are all written in the monodic style which was the fashion of the time and was introduced by Giulio Caccini. The latter worked most of his life in Florence, and it is probably no coincidence that Falconieri published the collection in 1616, when he also worked in Florence. Most of the pieces recorded here are strophic; some comprise just one stanza, but I don't know whether there are more stanzas as unfortunately not every piece is performed complete. The documentation of this disc is also rather poor: the sources from which the pieces are taken are omitted. As a result I can't tell whether some pieces are from the second collection of 1619. In that same year Falconieri published a collection with sacred music, apparently his only one. That is ignored here; on this disc we only hear secular pieces and instrumental compositions. It is also regrettable that the lyrics are only partially translated.

This results in a very interesting and musically captivating programme. The collection of instrumental music is probably the most important part of his oeuvre as it laid the foundation for the Neapolitan violin school. However, this is also the better-known part of his output. From that angle it is the vocal music which deserves special attention. The villanellas are nice pieces which should be part of the standard repertoire of Italian 17th-century vocal music. Jan Van Elsacker sings them in a relaxed manner, and that suits them well. They are not comparable to the monodic madrigals by, for instance, Monteverdi. Obviously plucked instruments play an important role, not only in the accompaniment of the villanellas but also in the instrumental items. These are given good and colourful performances.

This disc is a significant addition to the discography and proves that Falconieri has more to offer than just a couple of instrumental pieces with somewhat extravagant titles.

Johan van Veen (Š 2015)

Relevant links:

United Continuo Ensemble

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