musica Dei donum
"Sinfonie di viole - Liquide Perle"
rec: Sept 3 - 5, 2012, Sengwarden, Evangelische Kirche
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88765413072 (© 2013) (76'15")
Cover & track-list
Lorenzo ALLEGRI (1567-1648):
Primo ballo della notte d'amore ;
Giovanni BASSANO (c1558-1617):
Liquide perle amor (Marenzio) ;
Marco Antonio FERRO (after 1600-1662):
Sonata VI ;
Sonata IX à 4 viole ;
Sonata X à 4 viole ;
Giovanni LEGRENZI (1626-1690):
Sonata VI a 4 viole da gamba o come piace ;
Biagio MARINI (1594-1663):
Canzon III à quattro tromboni ̣ viole ;
Alessandro PICCININI (1566-c1638):
Toccata & Corrente a dui liutia ;
Gregorio STROZZI (1615-1687):
Euphonia, cappricci da sonare ;
Gagliarda III 'e per concerto di viole' ;
Passa y calla (Toccata de passacagli) ;
Giovanni Antonio TERZI (c1580-after 1620):
Liquide perle amor (Marenzio);
Giovanni Maria TRABACI (c1575-1647):
Canzona franzesa I à 4 'per concerto de viole ad arco' ;
Canzona franzesa II à 4 ;
Canzona franzesa VII cromatica ;
Gagliarda cromatica à 5 detta la Trabacina ;
Cherubino WAESICH (c1600-1650):
Canzona III ;
Canzona VIII 
 Giovanni Bassano, Motetti, madrigali et canzone francese di diversi eccellenti autori, 1591;
Giovanni Maria Trabaci,  Ricercate, canzone francese, capricci, canti fermi, gagliarde, partite diverse, toccate, durezze e ligature, et un madrigale passagiato nel fine, 1603;
 Il secondo libro de ricercate & altri varij capricci, 1615;
 Lorenzo Allegri, Primo libro delle musiche, 1618;
 Alessandro Piccinini, Intavolatura di liuto, et di chitarrone, libro primo, 1623;
 Biagio Marini, Sonate, symphonie, canzoni, passe'mezzi, baletti, corenti, gagliarde e retornelli, op. 8, 1629;
 Cherubino Waesich, Canzoni a cinque, 1632;
 Marco Antonio Ferro, Sonate a due, tre, & quattro, op.1, 1649;
 Biagio Marini, Per ogni sorte di strumento musicale diversi generi di sonate, da chiesa, e da camera, op. 22, 1655
 Giovanni Legrenzi, La Cetra, libro quattro di sonate a 2-4 stromenti, op. 10, 1673;
 Gregorio Strozzi, Capricci da sonare cembali, et organi, op.4, 1687
Hille Perl, Frauke Hess, Juliane Laake, Julia Vetö, Sarah Perl, Marthe Perl, viola da gamba;
Johannes Gontarski, Lee Santana, lute (soloa)
The viol consort and music for such an ensemble is mostly immediately associated with the English renaissance. That doesn't only happen today: in the 17th century it was also considered typically English. The Swedish Queen Christina, who settled in Rome after her conversion to Catholicism, once reported about a musical event she attended. She refers to "a consort of viols (Sinfonie di Viole), on which the English are such great masters". The consort of viols was more popular and widespread in England than everywhere else in Europe. In the 16th century consort music was almost exclusively played at the court, but towards the end of the century it disseminated across society and became increasingly popular among non-professional players.
However, music for viol consort is often also considered an exclusively English genre, and that is certainly not justified. In recent times several discs have landed on my desk which shed light on consort music from Italy. In 2014 Delphian Records released a disc under the title "Serenissima - Music from Renaissance Europe on Venetian viols", played by the Rose Consort of Viols. However, the Italian music on the programme was from the 16th century when a consort of viols was quite common across the continent. The 17th century is the time of the seconda prattica. One of its features is the emergence of instrumental virtuosity and the writing for solo instrument(s) and basso continuo. Music for viol consort seems not to fit into this picture. But the musical landscape of that time is more differentiated than one may think.
In 2011 Ricercar released a disc with Italian consort music of the 17th century, performed by the Ensemble Mare Nostrum. It included instrumental pieces by Frescobaldi and Palestrina and also some madrigals by Domenico Mazzocchi in which the singers (Vox Luminis) are supported by a consort of viols. Mare Nostrum also included pieces by Cherubino Waesich in its programme which are specifically written for a consort of viols. That same composer also figures in the programme of the present disc.
In her liner-notes Marthe Perl who took the initiative to this recording project, gives many examples of viols and a consort of viols playing a considerable role in Italian music life. She notes that the search for pieces for viol consort is complicated by the ambiguity in terminology. The viol was known under various names, such as viola da gamba, viola d'arco, viola all'inglese, vihuela d'arco or violone grosso, to mention just a few. The name of viola all'inglese is especially interesting, firstly because it seems to confirm the connection between the viola da gamba and England, but also because Antonio Vivaldi in 1704 was appointed teacher for the viola all'inglese at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice. However, there seems no unanimity about the identity of this instrument. Peter Ryom, in his article on Vivaldi in New Grove, states that this term refers to "a family of variously sized instruments resembling viole d'amore in having sympathetic strings". Ms Perl also mentions that the Ospedale della Pietà "bought four new viols as late as 1705". Does she refer here to the same instruments? If so, does she know for sure that these are indeed viole da gamba? Further evidence of the use of viols in Italy in the second half of the 17th century comes from inventories of the Ospedale della Mendicanti in Venice (1673) and of the Medici court (1700) both of which make mention of viols.
Collections of music published during the 17th century point in the same direction. Domenico Mazzocchi has already been mentioned: in 1638 he published a collection of 5-part madrigals specifically written for voices and viols. In 1632 Cherubino Waesich published his collection of Canzoni a cinque for viol consort. In his La Cetra op. 10 (1673) Giovanni Legrenzi included two sonatas for four viols and basso continuo. The programme also includes several sonatas à 4 viole from a collection by Marco Antonio Ferro which was printed in Venice in 1649. At the time he worked as a lutenist at the imperial court in Vienna. There the viol consort was quite popular and that could explain that he included some sonatas for viol consort in his collection. Particularly interesting is Biagio Marini, one of the great innovators of instrumental music of his time. According to New Grove "Marini’s largest and most innovatory collection of instrumental music is op. 8". That makes it all the more remarkable that it includes the Canzon III à quattro tromboni ̣ viole. Apparently the most 'modern' composers of the time didn't consider the consort of viols a phenomenon of the past.
Not all the pieces in the programme are specifically written for a consort of viols. Some were intended for the keyboard but that doesn't mean they cannot be played by viols. It was quite common to perform pieces on other instruments, and many keyboard pieces tempt to be played by different (combinations of) instruments, especially those which are notated in scores of four or five staffs. That is the case with the pieces by Giovanni Maria Trabaci, a composer who worked in Naples. The Canzona francesa à 4 indicates a performance with viole da gamba: "per concerto de viole ad arco". Gregorio Strozzi, in his collection Capricci da sonare cembali, et organi op. 4 of 1687 also specifically refers to viols as an alternative to the keyboard in the title of the Gagliarda III: "e per concerto di viole". Strozzi was not a formal pupil of Trabaci but studied in Naples and was certainly influenced by him.
The instrumental virtuosity which is a feature of the stile nuovo is not absent here: many pieces require considerable skills from the players. There are also some eloquent examples of the harmonical experiments which were in vogue at that time, such as the Canzona VIII by Waesich and the Sonata VI by Legrenzi. Gregorio Strozzi's Passa y calla which closes the programme is full of chromaticism.
This is clearly a very interesting disc and a nice complement to the recording by the Ensemble Mare Nostrum. The playing of Sirius Viols is of the highest order. The ensemble is outstanding, reflecting many years of playing together. The features of the time - virtuosity, a sense of experiment, a strong interest in expression and drama - all come off in a most impressive manner. If played this way it is easy to understand that the consort of viols was not considered a phenomenon of the past. I strongly hope that Marthe Perl and her colleagues continue their search for 'forgotten' repertoire for viol consort.
Johan van Veen (© 2015)