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"Apoteosis - Viola bastarda"

Divina Mysteria
Dir: Thor Jorgen

rec: July 2011 & June 2012, Liétor ( Albacete), Iglesia de Santiago Apóstol
Vanitas - VA-04 (© 2013) (59'24")
Liner-notes: E/F/S/Cat
Cover & track-list

Francesco Maria BASSANI (fl c1620-1622): Toccata del signor Oratio Bassanib; Toccata per b cuadro del [¿]b; Girolamo DIRUTA (1554-1610): Toccata di grado del 1° tuono [2]; Alfonso FERRABOSCO (c1575-1628): Sound out my voice, sobre Palestrinab; Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): Canzona V La Tromboncinab [4]; Andrés Alberto GÓMEZ (*1978): Toccata del signor Andrés Gómez; Gioseffo GUAMI (1542-1611): Toccata del 2° tuono [2]; Claudio MERULO (1533-1604): Toccata; Richardo ROGNONI (c1555-1620): Ancor che col partire, Modo dificil sobre Cipriano da Roreb [1]; Francesco ROGNONI TAEGGIO (c1550-1626): Susana paseggiata, Modo facil sobre Orlando di Lassob [3]; Vestiva i colli, Modo dificil sobre Palestrinab [3]; Bartolomé DE SELMA Y SALAVERDE (c1580-1638): Canzona I a 2ab [5]; Susana paseggiata [5]; Vestiva i colli passegiatto a 2 Basso e Sopranoab [5]

Sources: [1] Richardo Rognoni, Passaggi per potersi essercitare nel diminuire terminatamente con ogni sorte di instromenti, et anco diversi passaggi per la semplice voce humana, 1592; [2] Girolamo Diruta, Il Transilvano, 1593; [3] Francesco Rognoni Taeggio, Selva di varii passaggi secondo l’uso moderno per cantare e suonare con ogni sorte de stromenti, 1620; [4] Girolamo Frescobaldi, Il primo libro delle canzoni, 1628; [5] Bartolomé de Selma y Salaverde, Canzoni fantasie et correnti da suonar, 1638

Pavel Amilcar, violina; Thor Jorgen, viola da gambab; Andrés Alberto Gómez, organ

Chansons and madrigals count among the most important musical genres in the second half of the 16th century. Numerous of such works were written and published. Some of the most prominent composers of chansons and madrigals are represented on the present disc: Cipriano de Rore (Ancor che col partire) and Orlandus Lassus (Susanne un jour). Even Palestrina, today almost exclusively associated with sacred music, composed almost 100 madrigals. One of his most famous is Vestiva i colli.

However, we don't hear them in their original form but rather in arrangements. This was a common practice in the late 16th century; the most popular kind of arrangement were diminutions, in Italian passaggi. In most of these diminutions the composer takes one line from the vocal piece and adds ornaments or breaks up the line. The other voices are played as written by the composer, usually on a chordal instrument: keyboard, harp or a plucked instrument.

The title of this disc refers to a special kind of diminutions. The viola bastarda is not an instrument, but rather a playing technique, and more in particular a way to ornament a vocal piece. The article on viola bastarda in New Grove gives this definition: "A style of virtuoso solo bass viol playing favoured in Italy from about 1580 to about 1630, which condensed a polyphonic composition (madrigal, chanson or motet) to a single line, whilst retaining the original range, and with the addition of elaborate diminutions, embellishments and new counterpoint (...)". Although this technique could be applied to any instrument, the viola da gamba was particularly suited to this technique because of its wide range of three and a half octave. The result is that the ornamented part jumps up and down through the whole range of the piece, from bass to treble and back. In the programme on this disc Richardo Rognoni's arrangement of Rore's madrigal Ancor che col partire and his son Francesco's version of Palestrina's Vestiva i colli are eloquent examples.

Such pieces could also be set for more than one instrument, even a whole consort of viols. The programme includes an example for two melody instruments, treble and bass respectively, by Bartolomé de Selma y Salaverde, once again on Palestrina's above-mentioned madrigal, attesting to this piece's popularity. His only extant collection of music, Canzoni fantasie et correnti da suonar, published in four parts in 1638, includes also some other diminutions, such as Susana pasegiata, on Lassus' chanson Susanne un jour.

Although the genre of diminutions on madrigals and chansons and the viola bastarda technique are Italian specialities, the growing interest in the Italian style elsewhere contributed to their dissemination across Europe. The English technique of the lyra viol and the form of divisions on a ground both derive from the viola bastarda technique. This disc includes one specimen of English music: Sound out my voice is the title under which Palestrina's madrigal Vestiva i colli was published by Nicholas Younge in the collection Musica Transalpina of 1588. This arrangement from the pen of Alfonso Ferrabosco II is presented here as a world premiere. That is not the case: it was included in a disc of the ensemble Orlandoviols which was released in 2010. It is played here with viola da gamba and organ rather than with an ensemble of viols and that makes this performance an interesting alternative.

However, I am not overly enthusiastic about the performance. Thor Jorgen is a fine player as I noted in a recording of La Reverencia, devoted to Selma y Salaverde but here I find his playing too straighforward and often even a bit stiff and awkward. Little of the brilliance and the passion which are features of this repertoire comes out here. Andrés Alberto Gómez plays some solo organ pieces and he does so quite well but the bell-ringing in the closing bar of Salaverde's Vestiva i colli is completely out of order.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

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