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"La Voce nel Violino"

Dir: Enrico Onofri

rec: July 20 - 22, 2006, Mondovi (Cuneo, I), Oratorio di Santa Croce
ZigZag Territoires - ZZT 071102 (© 2007) (60'31")

Giovanni BASSANO (1560/61-1617): Ricercata II [1]; Dario CASTELLO (1st half 17th C): Sonata II [2]; Giovanni Paolo CIMA (c1570-1630): Sonata per Cornetto, over Violino [3]; Sonata per il Violino [3]; Giovanni Battista FONTANA (1589?-1630?): Sonata II [4]; Sonata III [4]; Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): Se l'aura spira [5]; Carlo GESUALDO da Venosa (c1561-1613): Asciugate i begli occhi [6]; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Armato il cor d'adamantina fede [8]; Mentre vaga angioletta [7]; Giovanni Antonio PANDOLFO MEALLI (fl 1660-1690): Sonata II La cesta, op. 3,2 [8]; Richardo ROGNONI (c1550-1620): Ancor che col partire, passeggiato [9]; Giovanni Marco UCCELLINI (c1603-1680): La Luciminia Contenta [10]; Francesco Maria VERACINI (1690-1768): Finale: Canone sopra Ut re mi fa sol la [11]

(Sources: [1] Bassano, Ricercate ..., 1585; [2] Castello, Sonate ... in stil moderno, 1640; [3] Cima, Concerti ecclesiastici, 1610; [4] Fontana, Sonate ŕ 1,2,3 ..., 1641; [5] Frescobaldi, Primo Libro d'Arie Musicali, 1630; [6] Gesualdo da Venosa, Madrigali ... libro V, 1613; [7] Monteverdi, Madrigali guerrieri, et amorosi, 1638; [8] Pandolfo Mealli, Sonate ... Opera III, 1660; [9] Rognoni, Passaggi ... libro secondo, 1591; [10] Uccellini, Sonate, correnti ..., 1645; [11] Veracini, Sonate accademiche, op. 2, 1744)

Enrico Onofri, violin; Alessandro Tampieri, violin, lute; Margret Köll, harp; Riccardo Doni, harpsichord; with Maria Cristina Vasi, viola; Alessandro Palmeri, cello

Under the intriguing title The Voice in the Violin the Italian violinist Enrico Onofri, with his ensemble Imaginarium, presents a programme of music by Italian composers of the first half of the 17th century (with the exception of Pandolfo Mealli and Veracini who belong to a later era). In this he wants to show how close instrumental and vocal music are connected at that time.

In the renaissance the human voice was considered the main instrument. Of course, all kind of musical instruments were played, but their role was mostly limited to support the voice by playing colla voce or replace the voice when necessary. They also played instrumental versions of vocal music. The only original instrumental music was dance music. Even when in the 17th century other forms of independent instrumental music came into existence the voice was still dominant. The more an instrument was able to imitate the human voice the more it was appreciated. Therefore the violin and the cornett were at the top of the ladder as they were considered most ideally suited to do just that. During this time instrumental pieces of several kinds were composed, but many of them had their origin in vocal music. Even sonatas show the traces of vocal music, as the programme on this disc demonstrates.

Through music specifically written for the violin by a number of virtuosos the violin became more independent. "However, throughout the first half of the century their works were to remain closely linked to the domain of vocal music, despite attempts to create a specific instrumental language - to such an extent that the writing in certain sonatas is very often similar to that of vocal music", Enrico Onofri writes in the booklet. He has chosen a number of sonatas to illustrate that. Most of these pieces are fairly well-known, but they well illustrate the point he is making, in particular as he has added some vocal items to the programme which are performed here instrumentally. In particular the two pieces by Monteverdi show great similarity in style to some instrumental works here if they are performed this way, more than if they were sung. Enrico Onofri underlines the connection in his ornamentation, which is partly used in both the vocal and the instrumental items.

Ornamentation is one of the main features of music of this time and place: they are absolutely essential in vocal and instrumental music alike. Enrico Onofri's performances are very virtuosic and also fairly dramatic. In the latter respect he is helped by the realisation of the basso continuo which underlines the theatrical character of this music - as practically all Italian music of this time. The sonority and sometimes sudden outbursts of the harp are especially effective. How common it was to perform vocal music on instruments and how that music was ornamented is demonstrated by the passaggi Rognoni composed over the famous madrigal Ancor che col partire.

The only item where in my view the instrumental performance doesn't work is the madrigal Asciugate i begli occhi by Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa. I have asked myself why I feel that way. I think it could have something to do with the very specific character of Gesualdo's musical language which was fundamentally different from what was common in his time. Gesualdo rejected the seconda prattica, unlike the other composers in the programme. He tried to include the modern expressivity in the old form of the madrigal. Gesualdo also wrote almost no instrumental music - only a handful of pieces has been preserved. Whereas other composers used instruments in their vocal music - Monteverdi is a famous example - and included vocal effects in the instrumental parts, Gesualdo's vocal music is strictly a capella, and his musical language is so individual that it seems hardly possible to 'translate' it to instruments.

The disc ends with a most curious piece by Francesco Maria Veracini, pupil of Arcangelo Corelli and a violin virtuoso who worked in several places in Europe. As Onofri explains: "the recording ends with a short piece which the Florentine violinist Francesco Maria Veracini had printed on the last page of his Sonata (sic) Accademiche of 1744. Composed in a virtual pastiche of seventeenth-century style, and concluding a set of violin sonatas whose writing gives free rein to instrumental virtuosity, this archaic canon on the plainchant theme Ut relevet miserum fatum (Ut re mi fa sol la) seems intended to remind the performer of the old debt the violin owes to the voice; this is why we have chosen it as the finale to our programme".

It is a worthy end to a most original programme concept which is performed brilliantly by Enrico Onofri and his ensemble. Nobody interested in Italian music of the early 17th century should miss this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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Enrico Onofri

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