musica Dei donum

Concert reviews

"The abbot in love - Ballate and madrigals by Paolo da Firenze"
ClubMediéval/Thomas Baeté
concert: April 24, 2015, Utrecht, Geertekerk

anon (14th C): Dal bel Castel, madrigal; PAOLO da Firenze (c1355-1436): Amor, tu solo'l sai, ballata; Amor mi stringe, ballata; Benedicamus Domino; Gaudeamus omnes; Girand'un bel falcon, madrigal; Lasso, grev'è'l partir, ballata Lena virtù, ballata; Ma', ria, ver di me pietà, ballata; Perchè vendetta, ballata; Poc'anno di mirar, ballata; Sofrir m'estuet, ballata; Una c'osa di veder, ballata; Ventilla con tumulto, madrigal; Petrus RUBEUS (c1393-1449): El non mi val, ballata

Olalla Alemán, Markéta Cukrová, Raffaele Giordani, voice; Daan Verlaan, voice, harp; Thomas Baeté, fiddle; Elisabeth Seitz, psaltery; Guillermo Pérez, organetto

We know many names of composers of the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, but often very little about their lives and careers. That is a little different with Paolo da Firenze (c1355-1436) whose music was the subject of a concert by the ensemble ClubMédiéval which toured the Netherlands recently. Thanks to several positions he held and documents he left behind we know some details about his life and career. Especially interesting is the so-called Squarcialupi Codex which was put together around 1415. This is a kind of anthology of the best compositions by the main composers from the 14th century. To each composer a section in the book is allocated, and every section opens with a miniature which includes the portrait of the composer. Paolo da Firenze is also represented, and the miniature reveals that he was an abbot, belonged to the Benedictine Order and that he was active as a singer: he was called Paolo Tenorista. However, the odd thing is that the pages of the book which are allocated to his works are empty. This has given much reason for debate as one wonders why he is the only composer who is not represented with any composition. The most plausible theory to date is that he was still alive when the book was put together, and that he wasn't able to decide what his best works were. We know his compositions from other sources, and the total of these is estimated at around 60. That makes the corpus of his extant works larger than that of any other composer of the Trecento, with the exception of Landini.

Only two sacred pieces from his pen are known. Gaudeamus omnes opened the second part of the programme, and the concert came to an end with the Benedicamus. The rest of his oeuvre comprises secular pieces: ballate and madrigals. Especially interesting is that Paolo da Firenze lived in a period of transition: in his oeuvre we find one the one hand "the eccentrically abstract and hypersensitive mannerism of late Gothic art", on the other "the simple beauty and straightforward nature of the upcoming humanism of the Renaissance", as Thomas Baeté states in the liner-notes to the ensemble's recording of this repertoire (Musica Ficta, 2013). Both styles were represented in the programme.

The older style was represented, for instance, by the madrigal Ventilla con tumulto, which was sung with great subtlety by Olalla Alemán and Markéta Cukrová. Another example is the ballata Perché vendetta which has the traces of a baroque operatic rage aria; that came clearly to the fore in the graphic delivery by Raffaele Giordani. One may think that music before the baroque era was not expressive, but this piece proves otherwise. In this respect it was a bit of a shame that the madrigal Girand'un bel falcon was performed instrumentally. Paolo lived in a time of popes and antipopes, and he took sides. According to David Fallows in New Grove he supported antipope Alexander V, and this madrigal reflects the Florentine antipathy to Pope Gregory XII. It would have been interesting to hear what Paolo has made of that. The programme was extended with a couple of pieces by other composers. One of them was Dal bel castel, another rhythmically complicated piece, brilliantly sung by Raffaele Giordani and Daan Verlaan. The closing of the piece underlined one feature of the performances: the perfect intonation.

Generally speaking the texts of the more modern pieces are more directly expressive, exposing the emotions of the protagonist, mostly about love or a loved one. A good example was the second piece in the programme, Lena virtu, beautifully sung by Markéta Cukrová, who in the last episode was joined by Daan Verlaan. Some of the stanzas were given a particularly expressive interpretation. One of the most sorrowful pieces was Altro che sospirar: "I can do nothing but sigh, nor do I wish to, For the one I am used to seeing has gone away". It received an incisive performance from the ensemble.

This was a most fascinating event which shed light on a composer whom not that many music-lovers will be familiar with. The stylistic contrast as indicated above was eloquently laid out. The singers showed an impressive mastery of the complicted style of the older pieces and a great sensivity to the text and the emotions of the newer items. I should not forget to mention the nice contributions of the instrumentalists. Especially interesting was the participation of the psaltery, not that often heard in this kind of music, and played by one of the main specialists, Elisabeth Seitz.

ClubMediéval is one of those ensembles one would like to hear again in the Early Music Network.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Concert reviews