musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Parole e Querele d'Amore - Madrigali a due voci [XVIIe]"

Ensemble Barcarole
Dir: Agnès Mellon

rec: Oct 12 - 16, 2009, Paris, Église Évangélique Allemande
ZigZag Territoires - ZZT101001 (© 2010) (60'52")

Giacomo CARISSIMI (1605-1674): Partenza dalla sua Donnaab; Marco DA GAGLIANO (1582-1643): Cantai un tempoab [1]; Tarquinio MERULA (c1595-1665): Su la cetra amorosaab; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Interrotte speranzeab [2]; Non vedro mai le stelleab [2]; S'el vostro cor Madonnaab [2]; Vorrei bacartiab [2]; Ricardo ROGNONI (c1555-c1620): Anchor che col partire; Giovanni SANCES (1600-1679): Lagrimosa beltaab [3]; Usurpator, tiranno della tua libertab [4]; Barbara STROZZI (1619-1677): L'Eraclito amorosoa [5]; Giovanni VALENTINI (c1582-1649): Ti lascio anima miaab

Sources: [1] Marco da Gagliano, Musiche, 1615; [2] Claudio Monteverdi, Concerto: settimo libro de madrigali, 1619; Giovanni Sances, [3] Cantade … libro secondo, parte prima, 1633; [4] Cantade … libro secondo, parte seconda, 1633; [5] Barbara Strozzi, Cantate, ariette e duetti, op. 2, 1651

Agnès Mellon, sopranoa; Dominique Visse, altob; Marianne Muller, viola da gamba; Marco Horvath, lirone; Eric Bellocq, theorbo; Brice Sailly, harpsichord, organ

The madrigal was one of the most important genres in Italy in the 16th and early 17th century. Until the emergence of instrumental genres like the sonata it was the main form of chamber music, frequently performed at aristocratic courts and in the private rooms of the higher echelons of society. But around 1600 the musical style changed, and the madrigal with it. In the 16th century madrigals were written for mostly four or five voices, and counterpoint was predominant. In the early 17th century Giulio Caccini promoted the monodic style, and he - like Jacopo Peri and Marco da Gagliano - composed pieces for solo voice and basso continuo.

At the same time the duet came into existence, and one could consider this as the expression of the wish to combine the best of two worlds. On the one hand the concentration on two solo voices allowed composers to pay more attention to a precise expression of the text, put into the mouth of a particular character. On the other hand the combination of two voices gave the opportunity to make use of counterpoint, in which the voices imitated each other. With the basso continuo the polyphonic texture could be extended to three voices. The duet also gave opportunities to create a kind of dialogue between two different characters. The present disc shows that not all duets have the character of a dialogue: in all pieces in the programme it is just one character who is speaking.

There is one particular aspect of these performances which is noteworthy. All duets by Monteverdi were assigned to specific voice types. Vorrei baciarti is scored for two altos, Interrotte speranze and Non vedrò mai le stelle for two tenors, and S'el vostro cor, madonna for tenor and bass. This is remarkable as such pieces were mostly written for just two voices, and the voice types were not specified. From that perspective one may question whether it is historically plausible to ignore Monteverdi's scoring, and perform them with other voice types than he has indicated. It is also noteworthy in this respect that the time of the predominance of the castrato voice had not come yet. This type of voice began to overshadow all others only in the last quarter of the 17th century. Also interesting is that Monteverdi scored most of his duets for two equal voices: two sopranos or two tenors. Agnès Mellon has a remarkably strong low register and Dominique Visse a well-developed high register, and therefore they can often sing in the same range. Even so, the difference in voice type is clearly recognizable, and therefore the character of these madrigals changes when they are sung by a soprano and an alto.

A musical form which composers of this time were very fond of was the basso ostinato. Two pieces on this disc are based on the same formula: Su la cetra amorosa by Tarquinio Merula and Lagrimosa belta by Giovanni Sances. The latter also composed solo cantatas, like Usurpator, tiranno della tua liberta. This genre came in vogue in the 1630s, and Sances was one of the first to write such pieces. Another important contributor to this genre was Barbara Strozzi, whose first collection with cantatas was published in 1651. From this collection L'Eraclito amoroso is taken.

Agnès Mellon and Dominique Visse not only sing partly in the same range, their voices also blend perfectly. And as they share their approach of this repertoire the duets are coming off quite well. They pay much attention to the text, as the composers expected from the interpreters of their music. Ornamentation is stylish and mostly technically correct. Surprisingly, in Monteverdi's Interrotte speranze there is very little ornamentation. The instrumentalists give excellent support, without overstepping the mark. Only in the realisation of the basso ostinato in Merula's Su la cetra amorosa they sometimes tend to do a bit too much. Very nice and appropriate is the use of the lirone. The organ, on the other hand, is a less logical choice in this kind of repertoire.

Despite some critical remarks about the vocal scoring of Monteverdi's duets, this is a fine disc in which the singers are approaching the 17th-century ideal of recitar cantando. The mixture of rather familiar and less well-known pieces makes this disc all the more attractive. The booklet contains all the lyrics with translations in French and English. It is not very user-friendly that the English translations have been printed separately at the end of the booklet rather than next to the originals.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Barcarole

CD Reviews