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Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583 - 1643): "Il Regno d'amore"

Ensemble Clematis
Dir: Leonardo García-Alarcón

rec: June & Oct 2009, Centeilles, Église Notre-Dame
Ricercar - RIC300 (© 2009) (61'03")

A miei pianti fine un dibcefg [5]; Aria detta La Frescobaldadf [2]; Begli occhiabcef [4]; Canzona detta l'Alteracdfh [3]; Canzona La Bernardiniabcdfh [3]; Canzona La Nicolinabcdfh [3]; Capriccio cromatico con ligature al contrariog [1]; Cosi mi disprezzate (Aria di Passacaglia)abcdfg [4]; Gioite o selveacefg [5]; Maddalena alla croceacdh [4]; O mio coracdf [5]; Ohimé che furac [5]; Partite sopra Passacaglibg [2]; Se l'aura spiraabcefg [4]; Se m'amate, io v'adoroacdfh [4]; Ti lascio anima mia (sopra l'aria di Ruggieri)adf [5]; Toccata per spinetta e violinobcfg [3]; Vanne ò carta amorosaadf [5]

(Sources: [1] Il primo libro di capricci, 1624; [2] Il secondo libro di toccate, 1627; [3] Il primo libro delle canzoni, 1628; [4] Primo libro d'arie musicali per cantarsi, 1630; [5] Secondo libro d'arie musicali per cantarsi, 1630)

Mariana Flores, sopranoa; Stéphanie de Failly, violinb; Andrea De Carlo, viola da gambac; Quito Gato, theorbod, guitare; Marie Bournisien, harpf; Leonardo García-Alarcón, harpsichordg, organh

Girolamo Frescobaldi was one of the most important and most influential composers of keyboard music of the early 17th century. He attracted many pupils from all over Europe, and in particular through his German pupil Johann Jacob Froberger he had a strong influence on the development of keyboard music throughout the continent. Far lesser known is the fact that he also composed music for instrumental ensemble and vocal works. Whereas his keyboard music was mainly written when he worked in Rome, his vocal works are the result of his stay in Florence.

In March 1628 Ferdinando II, Grand Duke of Tuscany, visited Rome, and in November of that year Frescobaldi was appointed as his organist. In reward Frescobaldi dedicated the collection of Canzoni in one to four parts and basso continuo to Ferdinando. While in Florence Frescobaldi also published two collections of Arie Musicali per cantarsi. The first book was dedicated again to the Grand Duke, the second to Marchese Roberto Obizzi, a nobleman from Ferrara - Frescobaldi's native city - who served as the duke's Master of the Horse.

It can't surprise that these vocal pieces were written during Frescobaldi's stay in Florence. This city was generally considered the birthplace of opera: Jacopo Peri, Giulio Caccini and Emilio de' Cavalieri all had been employed for some time by the Medici court in Florence. With them the stile nuovo was introduced, and much music in this style had been written and performed in Florence during the first decades of the 17th century. Frescobaldi's arias fit in with that tradition.

His vocal music has never been given much attention. The main reason is probably that his oeuvre is so much dominated by his keyboard music, and that this is of such quality and has had so much influence that it overshadowed all other parts of his output. Another reason could be the rather negative assessment of his vocal music by the theorist Giovanni Battista Doni (1595-1647), who told the French theorist Marin Mersenne that Frescobaldi didn't understand poetry and had to ask his wife to explain its meaning to him.

Whether that is true or not is impossible to verify. Listening to this disc of mainly vocal music I can't find any reason to ignore this part of his oeuvre. The fact that I am not that impressed with this disc hasn't much to do with the music but rather with the interpretation.

"The programme as a whole is organised into three sections similar to the three acts of a theatrical performance: Canti d'amor, Canti sacri, Ballo", according to the booklet. After a 'prologo', consisting of only one song, Se l'aura spira, a number of songs and instrumental pieces are performed. Some songs are strophic, and here Mariana Flores takes some rhythmic freedom in the form of rubato. But the application is too rigid and as the same trick is repeated time and again it becomes a bit stereotypical. Strangely enough in the non-strophic pieces, where the singer has naturally more rhythmic freedom, Ms Flores is too strict. Part of a stylistically satisfying performance is also the use of the messa di voce. Ms Flores understands that but only in Ohimé che fur its possibilities are fully explored. In most other pieces she is far too modest in this respect.

Mariana Flores has a very nice and pleasant voice, and I think she has great potential to sing this kind of repertoire. But on the whole I don't find her performances really expressive, and too often I had the feeling that more could have been made of the texts and Frescobaldi's settings of them. The same is true of the instrumental pieces. The booklet doesn't give the sources and also keeps silent about the original scoring. But here again the contrasts - in particular in dynamics - are underexposed, and the performances could have been more captivating.

Even so I recommend this disc as there are not many recordings on the market with this kind of vocal pieces by Frescobaldi. Earlier recordings by Montserrat Figueras and by Concerto Italiano are probably still available and overall more satisfying.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

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