musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"La Pazza - A madman's apology"

Flavio Ferri-Benedetti, alto
Il Profondo

rec: July 2013, Thurgau (CH), Trotte Pfyn
Resonando - RN-10001 (61'29")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D/S
Cover, track-list & booklet (ISSUU)

anon: La Pazzia; Romanesca; S'io son pazzo; Gianpietro DEL BUONO (?-after 1657): LXXVII, Obligo di dui Zoppi, e dui Ciechi [6]; Francesca CACCINI (1587-after 1641): Lasciatemi qui solo [1]; Benedetto FERRARI (1603/04-1681): Occhi miei [5]; Sigismondo D'INDIA (c1582-before 1629): Tutto il dě piango [2]; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Voglio di vita uscir (SV 337) [4]; Barbara STROZZI (1619-1677): Č pazzo il mio core [8]; L'Eraclito amoroso [7]; Giovanni Maria TRABACI (1575-1647): Consonanze stravaganti [3] ; Durezze e ligature [3]

Sources: [1] Francesca Caccini, Il primo libro delle musiche, 1618; [2] Sigismondo d'India, Le musiche ... libro III, 1618; [3] Giovanni Maria Trabaci, Ricercate, canzone francese, capricci ..., 1603; [4] Claudio Monteverdi, Scherzi musicali cioč arie, & madrigali in stil recitativo, con una ciaccona, 1632; [5] Benedetto Ferrari, Musiche varie, 1633; [6] Gianpietro Del Buono, Canoni, oblighi et sonate in varie maniere sopra l'Ave maris stella ..., 1641; Barbara Strozzi, [7] Cantate, ariette e duetti, op. 2, 1651; [8] Arie a voce sola, op. 8, 1664

Amélie Chemin, Sophie Lamberbourg, Jonathan Pesek, viola da gamba; Federico Abraham, violone, double bass; Masako Art, harp; Daniele Caminiti, theorbo, archlute; Josías Rodríguez Gándara, archlute, guitar; Mirko Arnone, colascione, mandolin; Johannes Keller, harpsichord

It is often said about someone with whom one disagrees or who acts in a way which is rather uncommon: he is mad. Madness is a term which can be used in various meanings, some serious, some less serious. This disc is devoted to madness, but not in the psychological sense of the word. The most popular subject of secular music in the baroque era is love, with all the trials and tribulations which go along with that. The music on the present disc is written by Italian composers of the 17th century, and in any piece the protagonist talks about his experiences with love. Lovers tend to lose control of their feelings, and that makes these pieces fit for a programme about madness.

Some of the items recorded here are quite serious. That certainly goes for Tutto il dě piango by Sigismondo d'India, on a text by Francesco Petrarca: "I cry all day and then, at night, when poor mortals rest, I find myself in tears and my grief redoubles". In the same vein Francesca Caccini's Lasciatemi qui solo begins with the words: "Leave me alone here, fly back to your nest, ye birds, while I breathe out on this shore both my soul and my grief". One of the tribulations of love which is a returning subject in baroque cantates is the fickleness of the beloved. That is expressed in L'Eraclito amoroso by Barbara Strozzi: "[In] my fair beloved, faithfulness is dead - he, that I believed to be so faithful!"

Their sad experiences in love drives them mad. But in Barbara Strozzi's Č pazzo il mio core we meet another form of madness: "My heart is crazy since, always delirious, it loves a face that is all cruelty". In Monteverdi's Voglio di vita uscir another unhappy lover even wants to die: "I want to die! I want my bones to turn into dust, my limbs into ashes". But the lover in Occhi miei by Benedetto Ferrari has another idea: "I can well say that extreme grief does not kill!".

The probably most intriguing and unusual part of this disc is the anonymous La Pazzia. It is a kind of hotchpotch of contrasting thoughts and feelings, with various musical forms and in different dialects. It is especially here that the madness of a lover is exposed. "Whoever does not know me will say that mine is true madness, that makes me happy. But all is rage, love's very effect, remaining in my heart". The next passage in the text shows what to expect: "I would like to versify: 'O heaven, o earth, o sea!' No, no, I want to sing 'la sol fa mi fa re'". What to make of a piece like this. Do we have to take this seriously, or is it a satire on the many pieces about love written in his time? (A bit like Francesco Provenzale's Squarciato appena havea which is a parody of Luigi Rossi's famous Lamento de la Regina di Suezia). Anyway, it is a most intriguing piece, and I think that it is rightly interpreted here with considerably liberty and in a theatrical style. This piece is an example of the differentiation with which the various pieces on the programme are treated. Another example is the anonymous S'io son pazzo which opens the programme and includes ironic and 'serious' elements; both come off very well here.

The music on this disc is from the time in which composers aimed at stirring the emotions of the listeners and therefore tried to express in their compositions the affects which are related to the texts. It was the task of the performers to communicate those affects. To that end they had various devices at their disposal: the colouring of the voice, dynamic inflections (including messa di voce), rhythmic flexibility and ornamentation. All of these tools are explored here, integrated into a natural unity, in the interest of expression. An example of the colouring of the voice is that Flavio Ferri-Benedetti sometimes switches to his chest register. I don't always see the reason for that, but it is certainly appropriate in the above-mentioned La Pazzia. It is clear that he feels completely at home in that particular piece. But he is equally convincing in Lasciatemi qui solo, a magnificent piece by Francesca Caccini. The refrain "Lasciatemi morire" (Let me die) is sung with great subtlety.

The first half of the 17th century was also the time of experiments in the realm of harmony. That is particularly exposed here in the two instrumental pieces by Giovanni Maria Trabaci, originally written for harp or a keyboard instrument but performed here with a consort of viols which is completely legitimate. Another striking example is the aria Occhi miei by Benedetto Ferrara which ends with a line full of chromaticism and dissonants. Obviously the perfect intonation of Ferri-Benedetti and the instrumentalists is an essential prerequisite for the expression of the affetti.

The role of the instruments is an aspect of this recording which deserves some attention. Johannes Keller discusses at length the way the basso continuo is realized. Today we are used to see various instruments in the basso continuo section of an ensemble, and in performances of 17th-century Italian operas the number of basso continuo instruments is sometimes considerable, and a mixture of chordal (keyboard, harp, plucked instruments) and string instruments (viola da gamba, lirone). Here the voice is sometimes supported by a single instrument - harpsichord, harp - and in other cases by a consort or even various consorts of instruments. "Our instruments can be organized into three 'choirs': a four-voice viol consort; a lute consort comprising of two archlutes, theorbo and harp; and a harpsichord, which performs both a disconnecting and a connecting function", Keller writes in the booklet. This way some pieces are more close to a polyphonic madrigal than to a monody. I don't know what to think of that; it sounds very well, but that is no argument in favour of this practice. I would like to see some historical evidence for it. In that respect this disc gives some food for thought.

The same goes for the inclusion of a mandolin in the instrumental ensemble. Today this instrument plays a marginal role in music life and is mostly associated with some works by Vivaldi. However, it is known that the mandolin was used since the late 16th century; it probably played a more important role than we are inclined to think. Maybe it is time to give it a more prominent place in performances of 17th-century repertoire.

Italian music from the first half of the 17th century is often recorded, but unfortunately many discs include the same repertoire. These artists deserve praise for avoiding the obvious and presenting a programme of little-known and even completely unknown pieces. This way their disc is a meaningful addition to the catalogue. All the pieces included here are of fine quality and deserve to be performed and heard, and the performances are excellent. These factors make this a disc not to be missed.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Flavio Ferri-Benedetti
Il Profondo

CD Reviews