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Carlo GESUALDO da Venosa, Ascanio MAYONE: "Tribulationem"

Concerto Soave
Dir: Jean-Marc Aymes

rec: Sept 3 - 7, 2012, Paris, Eglise évangélique allemande; Oct 7 - 11, 2012, Saint-Michel-en-Thiérache, Abbaye
ZigZag Territoires - ZZT319 (2 CDs) (© 2013) (1.59'20")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list
Scores Gesualdo, Madrigals bk 6

Carlo GESUALDO da Venosa (c1561-1613): Alma d'amor rubelle [5]; Ardita zanzaretta [5]; Ave dulcissima Maria [1]; Da pacem Domine (ed. I Stravinsky) [2]; Deh, come invan sospiro [5]; Ecce vidimus eum [4]; Già piansi nel dolore [5]; Io pur respiro [5]; Mille volte il di [5]; Moro, lasso, al mio duolo [5]; O vos omnes [1]; Peccantem me quotidie [1]; Tribulationem et dolorem [1]; Tu piangi, o filli [5]; Venit lumen tuum [1]
Ascanio MAYONE (c1565-1627): Canzona francesa Ib [3]; Canzona francesa IIa [3]; Canzona francesa IIIb [3]; Canzona francesa IVab [3]; Io son mi giovinetta, diminuito da Stella Montella e Maioneab [3]; Partite sopra il tenore antico, o Romanescaabc [3]; Recercar del 4° tonob [3]; Recercar del 10° tonoa [3]; Recercar sopra il canto fermo di Costanto Festab [3]; Recercar sopra il canto fermo di Costanto Festa per l'arpaac [3]; Toccata Ib [3]; Toccata IIa [3]; Toccata IIIc [3]; Toccata IV per il cembalo cromaticoa [3]; Toccata V per il cimbalo cromaticoa [3]

Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa, [1] Sacrarum cantionum quinque vocibus liber primus, 1603; [2] Sacrarum cantionum liber primus ... sex vocibus, 1603; [3] Ascanio Mayone, Secondo libro de diversi capricci per sonare, 1609; Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa, [4] Responsoria et alia ad officium hebdomadae sanctae spectantia sex vocibus, 1611; [5] Sesto libro di madrigali, 1611

María-Cristina Kiehr, Rosa Dominguez, soprano; Pascal Bertin, alto; Lluis Vilamajo, Raffaele Giordani, tenor; Daniele Carnovich, bass
Mara Galassi, harpa; Jean-Marc Aymes, harpsichordb, organc

Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa is one of the most remarkable characters in music history. His musical idiom is different from everything that was written in his time, so it seems. It is true that he goes futher in experiments with chromaticism and dissonance than others, but it would not be correct to consider him as a loner. There were other composers who experimented with harmony and were not afraid of some heavy dissonants. It seems that especially in the Naples region this kind of experiments were quite popular.

This disc connects Gesualdo with his contemporary Ascanio Mayone (or Maione) who was active as a player of the keyboard and the harp. Although he also composed a collection of madrigals he is mainly known for his music for his own instruments. In 1601 he was mentioned as a player of the harp a due ordini (a chromatic harp capable of playing sharps and flats), and in his second book of keyboard music he included two toccatas for cimbalo cromatico. These facts bear witness to his sense of experiment in regard to harmony. In the foreword of this book he makes clear that expression comes in the first place: "Whenever compositions are adorned with passage-work there will occur some false notes that pass contrary to the contrapuntal laws; but without them it is impossible to make a beautiful effect." He was an innovator in that many of his keyboard pieces are divided into short contrasting sections which would be a feature of the seconda prattica.

Various qualities of his keyboard works find their counterpart in Gesualdo's vocal music, in particular his madrigals of the last two books. Contrasting sections can be found in that Gesualdo very accurately sets a text to music in order to express its content. A madrigal can begin with a phrase in vivid rhythm only to turn into a line with strong dissonants. Sometimes one word is singled out to maximum effect. However, Dinko Fabris, in his liner-notes, emphasizes that Gesualdo's oeuvre "remains within the bounds of the most rigorous Renaissance counterpoint".

The connection between Gesualdo and Mayone is not just a matter of style but also historically justified. After 1590 Mayone was second organist at the Santa Casa dell'Annunziata, where Jean de Macque was first organist. Previously the latter, who was of Flemish birth, was at the service of the Gesualdo family. It seems likely that both Gesualdo and Mayone underwent the influence of De Macque, and Gesualdo may have had some influence on the way Mayone's career progressed.

The alternation of vocal pieces by Gesualdo - motets at the first disc, madrigals from the 6th book at the second - with pieces from Mayone's second book of keyboard pieces is highly compelling. It is interesting to hear the similarities and differences between the works of the two masters. The scoring of Mayone's compositions is not unproblematic. He was a virtuosic player of the harp and it seems likely that a number of pieces are intended for that instrument. Dinko Fabris states that the pieces from Mayone's second book extend the compass of the Neapolitan harpsichords of the time. Therefore they are meant for either harp or organ. However, Jean-Marc Aymes plays several pieces at the harpsichord. Sometimes he plays a piece with Mara Galassi, in alternation or together, which is a bit odd: these are pieces for one player, and it is not conceivable that any performer - Mayone himself, for instance - might have switched from one instrument to the other during play. In the Partite sopra il tenore antico, Romanesca Aymes even switches between organ and harpsichord, while Mara Galassi also participates.

Secondly, two toccatas are intended for the cimbalo cromatico. "Since no truly satisfying specimen of the type exists today, we preferred to use a two-manual instrument with one manual tuned in sharps and the other in flats, even if that meant playing it was sometimes akin to performing a balancing act". This suggests that this instrument is used in these two toccatas, but they are played at the harp. It seems that the two-manual harpsichord is rather used to accompany the singers in the vocal items: "This enabled the singers to be sure they were accurately placing B sharps that were not Cs, and C flats that were not Bs".

This turns our attention to two features of these performances. The first is the accompaniment of the voices with instruments. This is rather unusual: in most recordings Gesualdo's madrigals and motets are performed by voices a cappella. According to Fabris "this option is philologically correct, for the practice is authorised by Molinaro's score mentioned above, which assocates the madrigals with music for keyboard, harp, and other instruments". Molinaro was the lutenist who published Gesualdo's madrigals in 1613. It would have been nice if some more specific information had been given about this issue. The second feature is the attention which is given to the most appropriate tuning. "[It] is important above all to underline here the strict recourse to quarter-comma meantone temperament, the only temperament that can fully express the the dizzying chromaticisms of these madrigals", Jean-Marc Aymes states.

The performances are superior. As far as I know the singers are not a fixed vocal group, but the ensemble is perfect, and the precise intonation in the adopted temperament results in highly expressive performances. This is Gesualdo as good as it gets as the meaning of the lyrics is impressively exposed. The playing of Aymes and Galassi is equally impressive, not only technically but also in their exploration of the features of Mayone's compositions. This is simply a fascinating set and can only be strongly recommended.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

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