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"Un Concert pour Mazarin – Italian music in 17th-century French manuscript collections "

Philippe Jaroussky, altoa
La Fenice
Dir.: Jean Tubéry
rec: June 25 - 28, 2003, Thiérache (Fr), Saint-Michel
Virgin Classics - 5 45656 2 (59'10")

anon (beginning 17th century): Bienheureuse est une âmea; anon (beginning 17th century): Madre, non mi far monacaa; Giovanni Battista Bassani (c1657-1716): In caligne umbrosaa; Maurizio Cazzati (c1620-1677): Acclamate de terraa; Capriccio e ciaccona; Giovanni Paolo Cima (c1570-1622): Surge, propera, amica meaa; Francesco Foggia (1604-1688): O quam clemensa; Nicolò Fontei (?-c1647): Laudate pueria; Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643): Capriccio; Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643): Sancta Mariaa; François Roberday (1624-1680): Fugue à 4 parties sur un sujet italien; Luigi Rossi (?) (c1597-1653): Passacaille pour le clavecin; Francesco Turini (c1589-1656): Sonata a 3 sopra La Monica; Ludovico da Viadana (c1560-1627): Canzon per cornetto e violino in riposta;

Jean Tubéry, Gebhard David, cornet, mute cornet; Enrico Onofri, Alessandro Tampieri, violin; Emilia Gliozzi, cello; Jérémie Papasergio, bassoon; Matthias Spaeter, archlute; Jean-Marc Aymes, harpsichord, organ

Cardinal Mazarin was a very powerful figure in France. He was France's first minister from the death of Louis XIII until his own death in 1661. He was Italian and a great lover of the arts. As a young man he participated in the oratorio performances in Rome, organised by the Jesuits. Later he contributed to the rise of the Roman opera. When in France, he wanted the French to get knowledge of the developments in Italian opera. He invited Italian singers to perform in Luigi Rossi's Orfeo to be performed at the French court in 1647.
That wasn't the first time Italians were invited to perform in Paris. At the beginning of the 17th century Giulio Caccini and his daughter Francesca were demonstrating recitar cantando at the court of Henri IV and Marie de' Medici.

"This disc presents a number of pieces, mainly by Italian composers, which became known in France in the seventeenth century either through manuscript copies or printed editions," writes Barbara Nestola in the booklet. She states that French audiences were moved both by Italian music and Italian performers. Some French composers, like François Roberday, openly admitted they were influenced by the Italian style.
But she doesn't mention the fact that there was also considerable opposition to the increasing influence of Italian music. The performance of Rossi's Orfeo got a very mixed reception. Some loved the music, others hated everything that wasn't French. The whole production cost Mazarin a fortune, which undermined his power.

At the occasion of the wedding of Louis XIV Mazarin took another chance. It had to be magnificent, and Mazarin didn't bother to spend enormous amounts of money. A new theatre was built by the most famous Italian architect of that time, Gasparo Vigarani. It took three years to build it and when it was finished, Mazarin had already died. He invited Francesco Cavalli, the leading opera composer of Italy, to compose an opera, which was Ercole amante. But the performance wasn't a success. The audience didn't understand the Italian libretto and was more interested in Lully's ballets, which were inserted and in which the king and queen were dancing. After the last performance Cavalli went back to Italy, deeply hurt by the negative reception his opera had attracted.
Lully - also of Italian origin - tried to stamp out the influence of Italian music. He wouldn’t have to do so, if the Italian style didn't have its admirers. But he wouldn't have attempted it, if his aims didn't find any support.

The programme on this disc contains definitely some of the finest and most exciting music. It is a mixture of sacred and instrumental music, and ends with a 'moral cantata'. Some music is very virtuosic, like the Canzon per cornetto e violino in riposto, in which violin and cornet are involved in a florid dialogue which develops towards an exciting climax. It is brilliantly played here by Jean Tubéry and Enrico Onofri, with bassoon, archlute and organ realising the basso continuo part.

The opening item, Acclamate de terra by Maurizio Cazzati, is a sacred concerto for the Virgin Mary. Pieces like this mostly are quite exalted in character, and this one is no exception. The contrasts are realised well: on the one hand the extraverted passages like the opening section: "Acclaim her from the earth sound her name from the heaven", on the other hand the more introverted section "To you, most serene queen, may sinners come in haste". Philippe Jaroussky has a rather light voice, not very strong, but with a quite penetrating sound and an unusually high tessitura. He sings this work very well; the lower notes on "ab inferis" (from the depths) are a little weak. But his articulation is very good, and the ornaments are very well executed. In the exclamations to Mary ("O Mary, our peace, our calm, our trust, our joy!") the use of the 'messa di voce' would have made his performance even more effective.
In the other vocal items on this disc he shows his great potential. Only in the last item, Bassani's cantata In caligne umbrosa, the most dramatic elements are not fully exploited. Considering the general level of his performance, and the fact that he is still at the beginning of his career, we may expect a lot more from him in the future.

Sometimes two items are in the same track. The Passacaille which is attributed to Luigi Rossi is taken here as a kind of prelude to the opening recitative of Bassani's cantata. That may make some sense, but the connection between the chanson Bienheureuse est une âme - which has the same melody as the Italian tune La Monica, which Turini's Sonata a 3 is based upon - and the following sacred concerto by Fuggia is a mystery to me.

One commendable aspect of this recording is the use of a large organ both for the solo items and the basso continuo. The fact that this organ seems to be in meantone temperament makes the solo pieces by Frescobaldi and Roberday especially spicy and expressive.

I have been listening to this recording with great pleasure. It contains mostly pieces which are not widely known and are probably recorded here for the first time and they are given first-class performances.

N.B. This review first appeared on MusicWeb

Johan van Veen (© 2004)

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