musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Secular vocal music from 17th-century Italy

[I] "Bella è la donna mia"
rec: May 17 - 20, 2012, Vienna, Kollegium Kalksburg
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88875102932 (© 2015) (61'13")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Bartolomeo BARBARINO (1568-c1617): Alma mia dove ten vai [2]; Bella è la Donna mia [2]; Filli mia dove ten vai [2]; Flamminio CORRADI (fl 1615-1644): Baci cari e graditi [3]; Sigismondo D'INDIA (1581-1629): Ecco Filli mia bella [1]; La mia Filli crudel [1]; Langue al vostro languir [1]; Voglio il mio duol scoprir [5]; Giovanni Paolo FOSCARINI (fl 1627-1647): Ciaccona [8]; Giovanni Girolamo KAPSPERGER (c1580-1651): Gagliarda [6]; Biagio MARINI (1594-1663): Allegrezza del nuovo Maggio [4]; Amante addolorato [4]; Il Verno [4]; Invito all'Amoroso riposo [4]; Le Rugiade [4]; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Ardo, e scoprir (SV 158) [7]; Pietro Andrea ZIANI (1616-1684): Vanne pur, Lidia [9]

Sources: [1] Sigismondo d'India, Le Musiche a due voci, [libro II], 1615; [2] Bartolomeo Barbarino, Canzonette e sonetti a une e due voci, 1616; [3] Flamminio Corradi, Le stravaganze d'amore, 1616; [4] Biagio Marini, Arie, Madrigali et Correnti, op. 3, 1620; [5] Sigismondo d'India, Le musiche, con alcune arie, con l'alfabetto per la chitarra, libro IV, 1621; [6] Giovanni Girolamo Kapsperger, Libro III d'intavolatura di Chitarrone, 1626; [7] Claudio Monteverdi, Madrigali guerrieri, et amorosi ... libro VIII, 1638; [8] Giovanni Paolo Foscarini, Li cinque libri della chitarra alla spagnola, 1640; [9] Pietro Andrea Ziani, Fiori musicali, 1640

Tore Tom Denys, Erik Leidal, tenor; Reinhild Waldek, recorder, harp; Daniel Pilz, viola da gamba, guitar; Christopher Dickey, theorbo, guitar; Anne Marie Dragosits, harpsichord, organ

[II] "Udite, amante: Lovers, beware! - Music from the Seventeenth-Century Barberini Courts"
Armonia Celeste
rec: Jan 9 - 11, 2012, Cumberland, MD, St Paul's Lutheran Church
Centaur - CRC 3376 (© 2014) (63'13")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Giacomo CARISSIMI (1605-1674): Crudo amore; Siam tre miseri; Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): Partite sopra Ciaconna; Giovanni Girolamo KAPSPERGER (c1580-1651): Toccata; Marco MARAZZOLI (c1602-1622): O Dio, vio che mi dite - Amanti, fuggite, rec & duet; Marc'Antonio PASQUALINI (1614-1691): Sospiri, che fate; Stà forte mio core; Alessandro PICCININI (1566-1638): Toccata per due liuti; Carlo RAINALDI (1611-1691): Vaghi rai pupille ardenti; Luigi ROSSI (c1597-1653): Fan battaglia; Fanciulla son io; La bella più bella; Libertà! Ragion mi scriva; Orfeo, opera (Dormite begl'occhi); Passacaglia del Seigneur Louigi; Si, o no, dissi; Udite, amanti; Antonio TENAGLIA (c1612-1672): Io per me;

Sarah Abigail Griffiths, Rebecca Choate Beasley, soprano; Dianna Grabowski, mezzo-soprano; Paula Fagerberg, harp; Lyle Nordstrom, lute, theorbo, guitar

In the early 17th century a stylistic revolution in music took place: the stile anticomade way for the stile nuovo which aimed at reaching the listener's soul and triggering his emotions. However, the main protagonists of this style - among them Giulio Caccini - wanted audiences to believe that it was a revolution. In the liner-notes to the disc of the ensemble Vivante Anne Marie Dragosits seems to agree as she states that this shift in musical style "is arguably the greatest in the whole history of music, at least until composers turned their backs on traditional tonality at the start of the twentieth century". This seems an exaggeration. One could also argue that the emergence of the romantic style was a revolution which broke away from the aesthetic parameters of the past. In fact, the course of history shows that there was as much continuity as there was change. That certainly goes for the developments in the realm of secular music in the decades around 1600.

The importance of the text, the ideal of kindling the emotions of an audience as well as vocal virtuosity manifested themselves already in the madrigals of the late 16th century. That comes clearly to the fore in the oeuvre of Sigismondo d'India who is quoted at the start of the liner-notes expressing the ideals of the stile nuovo. The quotation is from a collection of vocal pieces for one and two voices with basso continuo, the first that he published. However, he also published five books with secular music for three to five voices without basso continuo, in the 'old-fashioned' stile antico; the last of these dates from 1616. This already indicates that there was no watershed between the two styles. In fact, composers used different means to achieve the same: the polyphonic madrigals were also addressing the audience's emotions. We also should not forget that someone like Carlo Gesualdo composed some of the most emotionally incisive madrigals in the old style.

There can be no doubt that the new style found an enthusiastic reception. The monodic style emphasized text and expression - just like opera did, which soon became one of the main genres of secular vocal music. The stile nuovo was not immediately a 'popular' style: like the early operas, arias and madrigals for solo voice(s) were mostly performed at aristocratic courts. Most composers of such pieces were in the service of such a court: d'India was director of the chamber music at the court of the Duke of Savoy in Turin from 1611 to 1623. Before that he had travelled through Italy and stayed for shorter or longer periods at the courts of Florence and Mantua. In the last stages of his life he worked in Rome and Modena. In Rome he was under the patronage of Cardinal Maurizio of Savoy. In Rome he composed a mass for Pope Urban VIII, who was a member of the Barberini family whose members were important patrons of the arts. The composers who are represented in the programme which Armonia Celeste recorded, were all in some way or another connected to members of this family.

Vivante brings a programme which sheds light on several sides of the secular repertoire written during the first half of the 17th century. Its main theme is "love in all of its manifold manifestations" (Dragosits). The ensemble includes two tenors and therefore it doesn't come as a surprise that we hear a number of duets. Whereas in later times duets of different voices - soprano and alto, soprano and bass - were quite popular, in the early 17th century composers had a special liking for duets of two equal voices, especially tenors. We know several such pieces from the oeuvre of Claudio Monteverdi. Ardo, e scoprir is a brilliant example. In addition we hear some pieces for solo voice; some of them are sung by Tore Tom Denys and Erik Leidal in turn, ending singing in unison. I find this a rather unhappy decision; I wonder if there is any historical evidence for this practice. Some pieces are very serious; they are technically and stylistically demanding. The music is often hard to perform, especially because of the virtuosic vocal parts, with their extended embellishments and coloratura, but also because of the stylistic requirements. If the performance is lacking in declamation, dynamic differentiation and ornaments, the music loses much of its impact, because these features of performance practice are the essential tools for expressing the music's affetti and stirring the audience's emotions. There is nothing to complain about in this department: the two tenors deliver outstanding performances. Only now and then the messa di voce could have been a little stronger.

Especially interesting in the programme is that it also sheds light on a different side of the repertoire: more light-weight pieces, usually known as canzonette. The pieces by Bartolomeo Barbarino are taken from a book with such canzonettas. These are written in dance rhythms and ask for a different approach. The singers and players are well aware of that; they are in full swing in these pieces. Even d'India, a composer of mostly serious stuff, sometimes touched this genre, for instance with Ecco Filli mia bella; therefore the dark streaks in the text should probably not be taken too seriously: "I will suffer my torment, because, for her, even death contents me". How different is the ensuing La mia Filli crudel, with its expressive harmonic progressions. Another composer figuring in the programme is Biagio Marini, best known for his instrumental works. His collection Arie, Madrigali et Correnti of 1620 includes serious and more light-hearted pieces and shows that he was also an excellent composer of vocal music. Barbarino, already mentioned, is the least known composer in the programme. He was a professional singer and composer of sacred and secular music, exclusively in the monodic style.

From whatever angle you look at it, this is a very fine disc. It offers a nice selection of secular pieces of a different character, many of which are little known. The programme is extended by some nice instrumental pieces.

The second disc carries us to Rome, in the circle of the Barberini's. It is astonishing how powerful they were in the realm of music and the arts. Sarah Abigail Griffiths sums it up in her liner-notes: "While Pope Urban VIII used (and, some say, abused) his office as ecclesiastical and secular ruler to finance his family's endeavors, the result is a rich cultural legacy from the early seventeenth century in Rome."

One of the main composers was Luigi Rossi. He was especially famous for his operas and cantatas. He worked in Rome and Naples, and also stayed in Paris on several occasions. His music was well-known in France, and that had everything to do with the fact that he was in the service of Cardinal Antonio Barberini, who was a francophile and had good contacts in France. Here Rossi found the protection of Cardinal Mazarin, himself of Italian birth. Although the performance of his opera Orfeo in Paris in 1647 wasn't an unqualified success, it made a great impression on French composers of the time. Dormio begl'occhi is from the second act. In addition we hear solo cantatas, duets and trios. One of the soloists in the 1647 performance of Orfeo was the soprano castrato Marc'Antonio Pasqualini, who for most of his life was a member of the Cappella Sistina and from 1655 to 1659 its maestro di cappella. He frequently sang in operas performed in the circle of the Barberini's. As a composer he is little known, and his oeuvre is not sorted out. He is represented here with Sospiri, che fate and Stà forte mio core.

Marco Marazzoli belonged among the most important composers in Rome. He was born in Parma and worked mainly in Rome. Like Rossi he was at the service of Cardinal Antonio Barberini. Although he composed some operas and oratorios, he was first and foremost known as composer of cantatas, scored for one to six voices and bc. The largest part of his oeuvre - oratorios, operas and cantatas - was written for the Barberinis. He was also active as a player of the harp, as his nickname Marco dell'Arpa shows. He was probably one of the first composers to differentiate between recitative and aria. O Dio, voi che me dite - Amanti, fuggit is an example: the recitative leads to a duet.

In the programme several unknown composers are represented. Pasqualini has already been mentioned. Another one is Antonio Tenaglia; he was educated on the keyboard and the lute, but the largest part of his oeuvre comprises vocal music. In 1644 he entered the service of Cardinal Antonio Barberini. Carlo Rainaldi was a professional architect, but also played several instruments and acted as composer. He was educated at the Collegio Germanico where later Giacomo Carissimi would work as maestro di cappella. The latter is best known for his oratorios, but as he was also in the service of the former Queen Christina of Sweden, who had settled in Rome after her abdication, he was in the opportunity to compose secular music as well.

From the angle of repertoire this is a most interesting disc. We meet several little-known masters here, and we get a fascinating impression of the rich musical culture of Rome, and the prominent role of the Barberini's. It is a shame that the performances are not really satisfying. The three singers have nice voices, and overall they sing well. However, stylistically speaking I am less than impressed. When they sing loud they avoid vibrato but on a lower dynamic level the vibrato creeps in. But what is most disappointing is that these performances are not very expressive. All in all there is a lack of dynamic shading, the interpretation is not declamatory enough and the singing is a bit colourless and bland. Having listened to these two discs in succession I was all the more disappointed as the singers are not able to bring out the emotional content of this repertoire in the same way as their collegues of Vivante.

This disc is probably only recommedable to those who have a more than average interest in this kind of repertoire.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Armonia Celeste

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