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"Con voce quasi humana - Vocal Music of the Trecento"

Ensemble Perlaro
Dir: Lorenza Donadini

rec: March 19 - 23, 2015, Rheinfelden (Baden, D), Schloss Beugen
Raumklang - RK 3501 (ę 2017) (65'32")
Liner-notes: E/D/I; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

ANDREA da Firenze (14th C): Donna, se per te moro, ballata; anon: Che ti šova nascondere 'l bel volto, ballata; O crudel donna, o falsa mia serena, madrigale; O zentil madona mia, ballata; BARTOLINO da Padova (fl 1365-1405): Per un verde boschetto, ballata; Quel sole che nutrica 'l gentil fiore, madrigale; Ricorditi di me, madonna mia, ballata; GHERARDELLO da Firenze (1320/25-1362/63): Per non far lieto alcun de la mia doglia, ballata; GIOVANNI da Firenze (fl 1340-1350): Donna giÓ fu' leggiadr'annamorata, madrigale; JACOPO da Bologna (fl 1340-?1386): I' senti giÓ come l'arco d'amore, madrigale; In verde prat'a padiglion tenduti, madrigale; Francesco LANDINI (1325-1397): De! Dimmi tu che se' cosý fregiato, madrigale-caccia; Nessun ponga speranša, ballata; Per seguir la speranša che m'ancide, ballata; LORENZO da Firenze (14th C): A poste messe veltri e gran mastini, caccia; NICCOLĎ da Perugia (fl c1350): Tal mi fa guerra che mi mostra pace, madrigale; Magister PIERO (fl 1340-1350): Con dolce brama e con gran disio, madrigale-caccia

Lorenza Donadini, Agnieszka Budzinska-Bennett, Hanna Jńrvelńinen, Giovanni Canterini, Ivo Haun, Daniel Issa, voice

The disc reviewed here carries us to 14th-century Italy, generally known as Trecento, although the latest pieces included were written after the turn to the next century. It was a fruitful period, and considering that the art of (music) printing had not been invented yet, it is remarkable that a considerable amount of music from that period has come down to us. This can partly be explained by the fact that some composers were very famous and their music was frequently copied and found their way across Italy. The best-known example is Francesco Landini.

The period now mostly called Trecento was once - and is probably still - also known as Ars Nova. However, this was mainly based on the style dominant in France and is now used for the period between the Roman de Fauvel (1310/14) and the death of Machaut (1377). Musicologists who objected to the use of this term for Italian music, emphasized the stylistic differences between French and Italian music. Even so, there is one important similarity, as David Fallows states in New Grove, quoting the musicologist Nino Pirotta: "[For] the first time 'it required that the length of every sound be precisely determined so that the different voices could proceed on schedule and fall precisely into the combinations of sound and rhythm determined by the composer'". This manifests itself in the music performed on this disc.

Mikhail Lopatin, in his liner-notes, explains what the programme is about: "The album presented here offers a panoramic view of the repertoire, from the earliest surviving anonymous pieces (...), and those by the first musicians whose actual names we know (Magister Piero, Giovanni da Cascia, and Jacopo da Bologna), via the florid and sophisticated musical style of some of the best-known Florentine maestri, including one (known as Francesco Landini) whose fame was widespread during his own time, to the rapid decay and death of this culture in the early Quattrocento." The earliest pieces are from the 1330s, the latest is the anonymous O zentil madona mia. The latter piece is from northern Italy, whereas other pieces are from different regions of Italy. A considerable number are connected to Florence, as the names of the composers indicate. They only were given a Christian name; the addition 'da Firenze' was how they became known to tell them apart from others. In several cases New Grove mentions more than one name; Andrea da Firenze, for instance, is also known as Magister Frater Andreas Horghanista de Florentia, Andrea degli Organi, Frate Andrea de' Servi and Fra Andrea di Giovanni.

The three main genres of Italian secular music are represented: the ballata, the madrigal and the caccia. The latter term literally means "hunting", but that does not indicate that every piece of this kind includes a hunting scene. It could be replaced by something else, but even so, it is a lively piece, mostly with the character of a dialogue. Here we hear one, A poste messe veltri e gran mastini: "Greyhounds and bloodhounds are ready". This piece is notable for its onomatopoetic elements, with barking dogs and imitations of the blowing of the hunting horns, as well as dialogues between the hunters. This is a relatively minor genre, but shows a different side of the secular music of the Trecento, which is mostly about love.

Most pieces are either ballate or madrigals. The latter should not be confused with the genre which was to become famous in the second half of the 16th century. The Trecento madrigal had its origin in the early 14th century. An anonymous treatise from the time describes it as a piece with a tranquil tenor part and lively upper voices. It was originally considered a rather unsophisticated genre, and was relatively simple with its AB structure. One could probably compare some of them with the canzonetta of the 16th century, such as Jacopo da Bologna's In verde prat'a padiglion tenduti: "On a green meadow with opened pavilions I saw ladies and lovers sing, accompanying a lovely dance on the fresh grass." However, as Lopatin points out the form was used soon for political purposes, for instance in Donna giÓ fu' leggiadr'annamorata by Giovanni da Firenze: "[The] text alludes to the well-known heraldic symbols - of the Visconti (biscia) - using this obscure language in order to praise (or vituperate?) the respective lords." But the subject of most madrigals is love and texts sometimes refer to a cruel lady (anon, O crudel donna, o falsa mia serena), but can also take a moralistic turn: "Well then, tell me, you who are adorned with golden pearls, who do you believe to be when you see yourself? Don't you believe to be well accompanied when you are sumptuously sitting on the horse? But what you see as glory, to me is worth no more than a rope - including jewellery, cloth and well-fed horses" (Landini, De! Dimmi tu che se' cosý fregiato). The latter piece is a strict canon in three parts, which obviously is anything but simple and unsophisticated.

Whereas the madrigal was the dominant form in the first half of the century, it was the ballata which dominated secular music in the second half. However, it was in fact older than the madrigal, as it rooted in the 13th century. It is closely linked to dance, as contemporary treatises explain and as the name suggests. One of its features is flexibility in its metrical structure, which can be summed up as ABBAA which "allowed for a more intense interrelation and coordination of the two parts than in the simple AB structure of the madrigal or caccia." The earliest ballate are for one voice, such as the anonymous Che ti šova nascondere' l bel volto? In the course of time they became polyphonic, and that is what we find in the oeuvre of Francesco Landini. Ballate are also mainly about love, but - like the madrigal - they can have a moralistic content as well, such as Landini's Nessun ponga speranša: "You young people should spend your time, passing so quickly, virtuously, for virtue surpasses all other things."

The way this repertoire is performed, is different. Some recordings include voices and instruments: the upper voice is sung, whereas the other parts are performed instrumentally. There seems to be no objection against this practice, although some pieces require a vocal performance, such as the caccia performed here. It would also be a little illogical to divide the parts of a canon among singers and instruments. Here the performers have opted for a strict vocal interpretation, and I am quite happy with that, especially as the six members of the Ensemble Perlaro sing so well. These are all very beautiful voices which blend perfectly. The singers show a good sense of rhythm and pay much attention to the text. The character of every single piece comes perfectly off. The caccia is brilliantly done.

This is a very fine disc with music which - according to Mikhail Lopatin - is not often performed and recorded. For lovers of late medieval music this is definitely a disc not to be missed.

Johan van Veen (ę 2017)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Perlaro

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