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CD reviews






Italian music of the 17th century

[I] "Discovery of Passion"
Ensemble 1700
Dir: Dorothee Oberlinger
rec: Oct 14 - 18, 2019, Cologne, Deutschlandfunk (Kammermusiksaal)
deutsche harmonia mundi - 19439711162 ( 2020) (75'12")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet
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Giovanni BASSANO (1558-1617): Ricercata III [1]; Dario CASTELLO (1602-1631): Sonata I due soprani [6] (introduced by a prelude on the harpsichord); Giovanni Paolo CIMA (c1575-1630): Sonata 4 [3]; Giovanni Battista FONTANA (c1571-1630): Sonata II [13]; Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): Canzona II detta la Bernardinia [9]; Pietro Paolo MELLI (1579-1625): Capriccio cromatico [4]; Tarquinio MERULA (1595-1665): Ciaconna [10]; Folle ben che si crede [11]; La Catterina; [10] Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Hor ch'ell ciel e la terra (SV 147) [12], arr Maximilian Volbers for recorder and bc; L'incoronazione di Poppea (SV 308) (E pur'io torno); Si dolce 'l tormento (SV 332) [7]; Francesco ROGNONI TAEGGIO (1570-1626): Io son ferito (Palestrina) [5]; Michelangelo ROSSI (1602-1656): Toccata VII [15]; Salomone ROSSI (1570-c1630): Sinfonia 11 in Eco [2]; Giovanni SPADI (17th C): Anchor che col partire (Rore) [8]; Marco UCCELLINI (1603-1680): Aria V sopra la Bergamasca [14]; Giovanni Battista VITALI (1632-1692): Passa Galli [16]

Sources: [1] Giovanni Bassano, Ricercate passaggi et cadentie, per potersi essercitar nel diminuir terminatamente con ogni sorte d'istromento: et anco diversi passaggi per la semplice voce, 1585; [2] Salomone Rossi, Sinfonie et gagliarde, Libro I, 1607; [3] Giovanni Paolo Cima, Concerti ecclesiastici ... & sei sonate, per instrumenti a due, tre, e quatro ... con la partitura per l'organo, 1610; [4] Pietro Paolo Melli, Intavolatura di liuto attiorbato libro quinto, 1620; [5] Francesco Rognoni Taeggio, Selva de varii passaggi secondo l'uso moderno per cantare e suonare con ogni sorte di stromenti, 1620; [6] Dario Castello, Sonate concertate in stil moderno per sonar nel organo overo spineta con diversi instrumenti a 2 & 3 voci, 1621; [7] Carlo Milanuzzi, ed., Quarto scherzo delle ariose vaghezze, 1624; [8] Giovanni Spadi, Libro de passaggi ascendenti et descendenti, 1624; [9] Girolamo Frescobaldi, Canzoni da sonare a una, due, tre et quattro libro primo, 1628; Tarquinio Merula, [10] Canzoni overo sonate concertate per chiesa e camera, op. 12, 1637; [11] Curtio Precipitato et altri Capricii Composti in diversi modi vaghi e leggiadri voce sola. Libro secondo, op. 13, 1638; [12] Claudio Monteverdi, Il ottavo libro de madrigali - Canti guerrieri et amorosi, 1638; [13] Giovanni Battista Fontana, Sonate a 1. 2. 3. per il violino, o cornetto, fagotto, chitarrone, violoncino o simile altro istromento, 1641; [14] Marco Uccellini, Sonate, arie et correnti a 2. e 3. per sonare con diversi instromenti, op. 3, 1646; [15] Michelangelo Rossi, Toccate e Corenti d'intavolatura d'organo e cimbalo, 1657; [16] Giovanni Battista Vitali, Partite sopra diverse Sonate per il violone, n.d. [ms]

Dmitry Sinkovsky, alto, violin; Dorothee Oberlinger, recorder; Marco Testori, cello; Luca Pianca, archlute; Jeremy Joseph, harpsichord

[II] "Passacaglia della Vita"
Cembaless
rec: 2019, Gnningen, Ev. Kirche St. Peter und Paul
Naxos - 8.551439 ( 2021) (62'11")
Liner-notes: E/D; no lyrics
Cover, track-list & booklet
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anon: Rodrigo Martinez [1]; Juan ARAS (?-1649): Chacona: A la vida bona [5]; Henri DE BAILLY (1590-1637): Passacalle: La Folie 'Yo soy la locura' [3]; Andrea FALCONIERI (c1585-1656): Ciaccona [11]; Passacaglia [11]; Giovanni Girolamo KAPSPERGER (c1580-1651): Preludio III [9]; Stefano LANDI (1587-1639): Passacaglia della vita [12]; Tarquinio MERULA (1595-1665): Ciaconna [8]; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Si dolce 'l tormento (SV 332) [6]; Santiago DE MURCIA (1673-1739): Fandango; Diego ORTIZ (c1510-1570): Recercada II & V [2]; Alessandro PICCININI (1566-1638): Ciaccona in partite variate [4]; Syavash RASTANI (*1986): Hiwdah Angosht (improvisation); Giovanni Felice SANCES (c1600-1679): Accenti queruli [7]; Marco UCCELLINI (c1585-1656): Aria V sopra la Bergamasca [10]

Sources: [1] Cancionero Musical de Palacio, [ms]; [2] Diego Ortiz, Trattado de glosas sobre clausulas y otros generos de puntos en la musica de violones, 1553; [3] Gabriel Bataille, Airs de diffrents autheurs mis en tablature de luth, cinquiesme livre, 1614; [4] Alessandro Piccinini, Intavolatura di liuto e di chitarrone, lirbro primo, 1623; [5] Juan Aras, Libro segundo de tonos y villancicos, 1624; [6] Carlo Milanuzzi, ed., Quarto scherzo delle ariose vaghezze, 1624; [7] Giovanni Felice Sances, Cantade de Gio: Felice Sances libro secondo, 1633; [8] Tarquinio Merula, Canzoni overo sonate concertate per chiesa et camera, op. 12, 1637; [9] Giovanni Girolamo Kapsperger, Libro quarto d'intavolatura di chitarone, 1640; [10] Marco Uccellini, Sonate, arie et correnti a 2 e 3, 1642; [11] Andrea Falconieri, Il primo libro de canzone, sinfonie, fantasie ..., 1650; [12] Stefano Landi, Canzonette spirituali e morali, 1657

Elisabeth von Stritzky, soprano; David Hanke, Annabell Opelt, recorder; Shen-Ju Chang, viola da gamba; Stefan Koim, archlute, guitar; Robbert Vermeulen, theorbo; Syavash Rastani, tonbak, daf, daryeh, kuzeh, adufe, ghungroo

The early decades of the 17th century were an exciting time, especially in Italy. In 1600 the first operas were performed, composers started to write music for solo voices in a declamatory style in which the text was at the centre, and the music served as a way to express the affetti they epitomized. This also affected instrumental music: composers translated the principles of the new vocal style to the instruments of their time, especially the violin and the cornett. In the 16th century instruments played a minor role, either supporting or replacing voices in sacred music, but now instrumental music was given a much more important place in the musical landscape. The many collections of instrumental music which were printed in those days or circulated in manuscript, bear witness to that.

The title of the two collections which Dario Castello published in 1621 and 1629 respectively reveals the nature of the new instrumental music: Sonate concertate in stil moderno per sonar nel organo overo spineta con diversi instrumenti. The word concertate refers to the independency of the instrumental parts which comes especially to the fore in the solo episodes. The word moderno indicates that Castello wanted to move away from the tradition which was embodied in the most common form of instrumental music of the stile antico, the canzona, which was derived from vocal models (chanson) and was dominated by counterpoint. The mention of organ and spinet - the latter word can be interpreted as a stringed keyboard instrument in general - refers to the basso continuo which was the foundation of every piece for an instrumental ensemble. Lastly, the use of the words 'diverse instruments' shows that the choice of instruments was - at least partly - left to the interpreters.

Castello is one of the composers represented on the first disc under review here, whose title sums up the feature of this time. Other composers on the programme are all pretty familiar. In fact, one of the disappointing aspects of this recording is the lack of adventure in the way the programme has been put together. As far as I can see (nearly) all the pieces have been recorded before, and a considerable number are frequently performed in concerts. Among them are the Sonata I by Castello, Tarquinio Merula's Ciaccona, Fontana's Sonata II and Uccellini's Aria V. The two vocal items by Monteverdi are among his best-known and Tarquinio Merula's Folle ben che si crede is quite popular among singers in the field of early music.

As I mentioned before, the choice of instruments is often left to the performers. In this recording the recorder takes a dominant role. It is impossible to say what instruments may have been preferred by the composers. However, it seems that the recorder did not take that prominent a role in music life as it did in the renaissance period. Castello's two collections of sonatas may well be an indication: in many sonatas he specifies the instruments he prefers, but none of them refers to the recorder. He usually confines himself to the indication that two parts have to be played on soprani. The violin and the cornett were the favourite instruments in the treble range at the time. That does not mean that the recorder is not a legitimate option. The programme proves that it can deal rather well with the music of the early 17th century.

The other treble instrument here is the violin, for which much brilliant music was written in the early decades of the 17th century. The programme includes just one piece where it is on its own: Fonatana's Sonata II. That is also the best item on this disc as far as the violin is concerned. The combination of recorder and violin does not work very well here. The recorder often overshadows the violin. Whereas Oberlinger produces a rather penetrating tone, Sinkovsky's violin playing is too restrained, especially with regard to dynamics; the dynamical range is rather small. I just wonder whether the combination of recorder and violin was common in Italy, in the early 17th century and even in later times. It is telling that in Vivaldi's oeuvre one does not find any trio sonata for recorder and violin.

The performances of each player individually is rather good, but the ensemble and the balance between the instruments is less than ideal. Oberlinger plays Monteverdi's madrigal Hor che'l ciel in an arrangement for recorder and basso continuo. This piece is so strongly declamatory in nature that this arrangement does not work very well. I am not very pleased by the vocal contributions of Sinkovsky, who also is a professional alto singer. His incessant vibrato pretty much spoils the vocal items. Lastly, it is a mystery to me why Marco Testori plays a cello built around 1820. Apart from its late date of building, a cello as we know it - assuming that it is indeed a 'baroque cello' - was not known in the first half of the 17th century. It was mainly the viola da gamba or the bass violin that were used as string bass.

On balance, I am rather disappointed about this disc. The programme is full of interesting and captivating pieces, and even though most of them are rather familiar, this could have been a great disc, also given the skills of the interpreters. However, for reasons I have described the performances fail to grip my attention.

The second disc covers the same repertoire. Its title, Passacaglia della vita, is derived from a piece by Stefano Landi, each of whose stanzas ends with the words "bisogna morire" - each of us must die. "[The] persistently repeating bass melodies, or ostinati, represent the circle of life and all of its diverse emotions", the liner-notes to the Naxos disc state. The basso ostinato, a repeated bass pattern as the foundation of a piece, whether instrumental or vocal, was one of the most popular musical forms in the 17th century. In the lyrics, which are only available at the site of the ensemble, this piece by Landi has been given the title of 'Homo fugit velut umbra' - Man flees like a shadow. This is not the title Landi has given it; it rather refers to an anonymous piece which the ensemble L'Arpeggiata included in its recording of music by Landi (Alpha, 2002) and which gave that disc its title. Its use here is an indication of the liberties the ensemble has allowed itself.

Basically, all the pieces performed here are arrangements of the ensemble. "[The] arrangements of Cembaless offer seasoned Early Music enthusiasts as well as young listeners new interpretations of songs from the 17th century". That statement is fundamentally wrong: arrangements are no 'interpretations'. An interpretation is something that tries to come as close as possible to the intentions of the composer. That is not the case here. Most pieces are spoiled by the addition of percussion (which are Persian to boot), even where we can be absolutely sure that it is not required. I just gave a sigh of relief when the track devoted to pieces for the chitarrone by Kapsperger started: it seemed these pieces were played as they were intended at last. Soon my hope was dashed, when percussion entered again and irreparably damaged them. Juan Araes's Chacona A la vida bona - as most of the pieces on the programme pretty well known - opens with a percussion solo, and the first section of the song is then performed by the soprano accompanied by percussion. Most vocal items are destroyed in that only the first stanza is sung as it has been written down, and then is varied in a way which goes way beyond ornamentation: entire lines are rewritten, and little of the original is left. Elisabeth von Stritzky uses quite some vibrato, which don't make things any better.

There is nothing wrong with the playing as such, but the musicians of Cembaless should use their skills for a better cause. This disc is highly annoying and in the end has little to do with historical performance practice.

Johan van Veen ( 2021)

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