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Bellerofonte CASTALDI (1580 - 1649): "Battaglia d'amore"

Il Furioso
Dir: David Dolata
rec: June 23 - 25, 2006, Miama, Fla., Florida International University (Concert Hall of the Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Performing Arts Center; July 12 - 17, 2006, Pordenone (I), Antica Pieve di San Martino d'Asio-Clauzettto
Toccata Classics - TOCC 0081 (© 2009) (76'33")

Bellerofonte CASTALDI: Amor colei; Capriccio detto hermafrodito; Capriccio di battaglia a due stromenti; Echo, prima & seconda parte; Felice e contento; Fuor di noia; Hor meno lieti; Lo sdegno; O Clorida; O crudel amor; Occhi belli; Pieno di bellezze; Più non vi miro; Proterà'l sol; Quagliotta canzone; Quella altera; Quella che tanto; Saetta pur saetta; Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): Canzon V detta Bellerofonte

Eugenia Cirrieri, Laura Fabris, Janet Youngdahl, soprano; Gian Polo Fagotto, Claudio Zinutti, tenor; Victor Coelho, archlute, theorbo, tiorbino; David Dolata, theorbo, tiorbino; Neil Cockburn, harpsichord

There is a good chance you have never heard the name of Bellerofonte Castaldi. But once you have heard this name there is little chance you are going to forget it. The Christian name Bellerofonte is not a very common name. It was deliberately given to him in order to keep him apart from others with the same family name. His father Francesco and two others with the same name all lived in Modena at the same time and they were regularly given the wrong mail. Francesco said to himself: "If I have ever children, I will definitely avoid such names as Pier, Polo or Gian and choose more proper ones". Bellerofonte was his seventh child and third son. His sisters were called Arpalice, Areta, Artemia and Axiotea and his brothers Oromedonte and Sesostro.

As extravagant as his name was Bellerofonte's personality. He was very outspoken and he regularly was imprisoned for insulting people. The Estense library in Modena contains a manuscript with personal notes by Castaldi, and they also include some crude insults to personal enemies. Castaldi and his brothers and sisters had received an excellent education. It was based on the principles of a profound taste for knowledge, the love of antique culture and the greatest respect for high moral values and chivalrous ideals. One wonders how the latter principle is compatable with his habit of regularly insulting people he didn't like.

Castaldi started travelling Europe until shortly before his death, when he returned to Modena. It fits his character that he always remained independent as a musician and never took a job at the service of some prince. As a result he was heavily in debt at the time of his death. Despite his conflicts with authorities he was held in high esteem both as a musician and as a poet. He stood in contact to poets like Tassoni and Testi and to composers like Gastoldi and Monteverdi.

Castaldi's music is not entirely neglected. About ten years ago the French ensemble Le Poème Harmonique devoted a disc to his music (Alpha 900). This disc is an excellent addition to the previous one: only two pieces appear on both discs (Quagliotta canzone, Capriccio detto hermafrodito). Apparently David Dolata isn't aware of this disc as he claims all vocal works on this disc being recorded for the first time.

The pieces for theorbo solo and the duets for theorbo and tiorbino are from a collection which was printed in Modena in 1622. The tiorbino is twice smaller than the theorbo and its range one octave up. Castaldi claimed this instrument to be his own invention. It is the only collection with music specifically for the tiorbino which makes it an invaluable source. The most intriguing piece from this collection is the last item on this disc, the Capriccio di battaglia a due stromenti. It is part of a tradition of writing battle pieces which lasted until the 18th century. With more than 14 minutes this must be one of the longest ever written. It is stated in the booklet that as most battaglias this is ending in the minor mode. It is not told why, but one could imagine that this is an indication of what is one of the elements of a battle: some are wounded and some die. But in this recording "we have taken the liberty of ending it in the triumphant major", as David Dolata writes. Quite a strange decision, I would say, in particular if we take into account the possibility the ending in the minor mode was deliberate.

It is a remarkable piece but in my view not the most interesting. The vocal items are more captivating, in particular as Castaldi was not only the composer but also in almost every case the poet as well. Among the most notable items are the Echo, prima parte and Echo, seconda parte. The use of an echo was quite fashionable in Italy in the early 17th century. It was in particular used in opera when a protagonist was talking to himself or herself, and was 'answered' as it were by an echo. Usually the echo took a part of the last word of the protagonist which then was a kind of 'answer'. In the first of the two pieces the soprano is answered by a second soprano somewhere in the background. But in the second Castaldi goes even further by adding a second echo, which uses a part of the word of the first echo. And the wonderful thing is that it all makes sense. The closing of the second aria is also noticeable. The first soprano sings: "What mercy is there for one who is in love, now that my death is wanted and granted by my pitiless fate?" And the first and second echos sing; "alla morte" (to death!). And then the first soprano joins the two echos by also singing: "to death!".

This diptych is one of the few pieces which is not strophic. Another one is Porterà'l sol, which is a real monody as there were written so many at the time. The other items are all strophic, some of them contain six stanzas which are performed in pairs: first two stanzas are sung the second of which is then repeated, then the next two are sung etcetera. There is less need for a declamation in monodic style but the interpreters should add some ornamentation to create some variety but also to express the emotional content of the text.

In this respect the singers could have gone a bit further. In my view they are a little too modest. Gian Paolo Fagotto has a very nice voice and sings with great expression. But one has to get used to the fact that he is often very loud - too loud, I think. Sometimes I was longing for a little more subtlety in his performances. The three sopranos are all excellent, and the two 'echo' pieces I have described are just splendidly performed. The playing of the lutenists leaves nothing to be desired, and Neil Cockburn contributes a harpsichord solo, a piece by Frescobaldi referring to Bellerofonte. Frescobaldi apparently was another composer who knew Castaldi personally.

This disc offers a most interesting and musically captivating portrait of an intriguing personality of the early 17th century in Italy. As much as he was his own man, he is nevertheless a model of his time: he was certainly not the only musician looking for independence, both personally and musically. It was the time of experiments of all kinds, and Castaldi is a perfect albeit uncommon example of what this could lead to.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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