musica Dei donum

Concert reviews

"Early Renaissance in Florence"
Sollazzo Ensemble/Anna Danilevskaia
concert: Dec 6, 2017, Zeist, Church of the Community of Moravian Brethren

anon: Benedicamus domino; Peccatrice nominata; Poi che veder non posso; DONATO da Firenze (fl 1350-1370): Come 'l potes' tu far; GIOVANNI da Firenze (fl 1340-1350): Quando la stella; Francesco LANDINI (c1325-1397): Conviens' a fede; O fanciulla giulia; Francesco LANDINI, arr anon: Creata fusti o vergine Maria, cantasi come Questa fanciulla amor; LORENZO da Firenze (14th C): A poste messe; PAOLO da Firenze (c1355-after 1436): Benedicamus domino; Donna, perchè mi veggi; Godi Firençe; VINCENZO da Firenze: Ay schonsolato

Perrine Devillers, Yukie Sato, soprano; Vivien Simon, tenor; Anna Danilevskaia, Sophia Danilevskaia, fiddle; Vincent Kibildis, harp; Roger Helou, organetto

It does not often happen that one can listen to two concerts with music from the Italian Trecento within a couple of months. This repertoire is not that often performed anyway, certainly not in a regular concert series, as that of the Organization Early Music in the Netherlands. In October the ensemble Tetraktys performed secular pieces by Matteo da Perugia, all on French texts, in December the Sollazzo Ensemble presented a programme of compositions by some of Matteo's contemporaries, among them Francesco Landini, one of the most famous masters of the early renaissance.

The music from the second half of the 13th and the early 14th centuries is usually given the label Ars Nova. However, this was mainly based on the style dominant in France and is now used for the period between the Roman de Fauvel (1310/14) and the death of Machaut (1377). Musicologists who objected to the use of this term for Italian music, emphasized the stylistic differences between French and Italian music. Even so, there is one important similarity, as David Fallows states in New Grove, quoting the musicologist Nino Pirotta: "[For] the first time 'it required that the length of every sound be precisely determined so that the different voices could proceed on schedule and fall precisely into the combinations of sound and rhythm determined by the composer'". Moreover, Landini's oeuvre shows some influences of Machaut, whereas others, like Paolo da Firenze, uses elements of what is known as the ars subtilior, which can be defined as a musical style characterized by rhythmic and notational complexity.

The three main genres of Italian secular music were represented: the ballata, the madrigal and the caccia. The most famous of the composers in the programme is Francesco Landini, also known under five different names. The largest part of his secular oeuvre consists of ballate. It was the dominant form of secular music in the second half of the 14th century. It is closely linked to dance, as contemporary treatises explain and as the name suggests. At the same time it was a more sophisticated genre than the madrigal and the caccia. Landini composed ballate for two and for three voices. In this concert we heard two from the latter category. O fanciulla giulia (O joyful girl) is a typical love song as were so often written at the time. Conviens' a fede is also about love, but has a more sophisticated text of a more or less philosophic nature.

Like Landini Paolo da Firenze worked in Florence, as the addition to his name indicates. His oeuvre is pretty large; only from Landini more pieces have come down to us. In his oeuvre the ballate are also far better represented than the madrigals. The ensemble included one specimen of each genre. Godi, Firençe is a madrigal, the only one for three voices in Paolo's oeuvre. It shows the influence of the ars subtilior in its complicated short rhythmic motives, which require great skills from the singers. That also goes for the two-part ballata Donna, perchè mi veggi.

These two composers dominated the first section of the programme. Donato da Firenze was the third; not many pieces by him have survived. Come 'l potes' tu far is a two-part madrigal, which was performed instrumentally.

The second section was devoted to sacred music. The composers in this programme have mostly left little or no religious music. Only two sacred pieces by Paolo da Firenze are known. Here Benedicamus domino was performed, a highly complex piece for three voices, which is notable for its daring harmonies. It was followed by a very different setting of that same text, an anonymous piece which in its rhythm refers to the dance. This section opened with Peccatrice nominata, an anonymous monodic song, which is part of the repertoire sung by the laudesi, brotherhoods which were founded in the Middle Ages and created their own, musically relatively uncomplicated, repertoire. It was sung in turn by a solo voice and three voices singing in unison. In this section another popular form was included: the contrafactum. Landini's three-part ballata Questa fanciulla amor was sung in circles of the laudesi on the sacred text Creata fusti o vergine Maria.

For the last section the ensemble turned to secular music again. This time music by composers, who are lesser known in our time. First the instruments could be admired in an anonymous piece, Poi che veder non posso, either a vocal work performed instrumentally - which was common practice at the time - or a vocal piece which has been preserved without a text. Next a two-part madrigal by Giovanni da Firenze was performed, Quando la stella, first sung by the two sopranos and harp, then again with one of the sopranos, harp and fiddle. Vincenzo da Firenze has only left four madrigals; one of them is the two-part Ay schonsolato, on a text about tragic characters from the antique mythology, among them Dido. The concert ended with the only caccia, literally "hunting". Such pieces not always depict a hunting scene, but Lorenzo da Firenze's A poste messe does: we heard barking dogs and imitations of the blowing of the hunting horns, as well as dialogues between the hunters.

The music performed during this concert is not often heard, and that is probably understandable, as it is not easily accessible to a general audience. It requires concentrated listening, but if one puts some effort into it, one is richly rewarded. The Sollazzo Ensemble was founded in 2014, but has already won several prizes. That doesn't surprise, if one listens to a concert like the one I attended. The programme was well put together, and there was a nice mixture of pieces of various character and in different scorings. The ensemble has three outstanding singers, who have very fine voices and really identify with the music they perform. The ensemble is immaculate and the performers also have a good rapport with the audience. The instrumentalists played their part too, performing the instrumental items in a kind of improvisatory style, creating some excitement by the virtuosic way the handled the music and their instruments. It was the first time I heard this ensemble, and it was a most impressive acquaintance. It has already released its first disc; it would be nice if the programme performed during this concert would be its second.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

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