musica Dei donum

Concert reviews

"Devotion from 17th-century Rome"

Faenza/Marco Horvat
concert: Feb 24, 2012, Zeist, Church of the Community of Moravian Brethren

Antonio FERRARO (c1595-?): Laudate Dominum; Giovanni Girolamo KAPSBERGER (c1580-1651): Canario (1640); Non ha più loco; Passacaglia (1640); Pietà di chi si more; 2 Toccata's (1640); Stefano LANDI (1587-1639): Passacaglia della vita humana; Domenico MAZZOCCHI (1592-1665): No me mueve mi Dios; Tarquinio MERULA (1595-1665): Hor ch'è tempo di dormire (Canzonetta spirituale sopra la ninna nanna); Luigi ROSSI (1598-1653): Mi son fatto nemico; Pender non prima; Spiega un volo; Giovanni Felice SANCES (c600-1679): Audite me; Stabat mater

Olga Pitarch, soprano; Marco Horvat, baritone, lirone, theorbo, guitar; Bruno Helstroffer, theorbo, guitar

The music which was written in Italy in the first half of the 17th century is a great source of inspiration of individual interpreters and ensembles. There is also a huge repertoire to choose from, but unfortunately you often hear the same pieces. In this respect the programme of the ensemble Faenza, which was presented at several concerts in the Netherlands in February was a happy exception. Some rather well-known pieces were performed, but the largest part was less familiar. The subject was 'Devotion from 17th-century Rome', and focused on four composers: Domenico Mazzocchi, Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, Luigi Rossi and Giovanni Felice Sances.

'Devotion' is not restricted to 'sacred music' - the programme made that very clear. Several pieces on an Italian text were certainly not written for liturgical use, but rather to be performed at the homes of the aristocracy or in social gatherings. Many of these have a moral content, even though the texts are sometimes a bit ambiguous. The programme started with a sacred piece, a setting of Psalm 150, Laudate Dominum, by the little-known Antonio Ferraro, not from Rome, although his only extant collection of music was printed there. The first piece by Mazzocchi was surprisingly on a Spanish text, No me mueve mi Dios. It expresses the love for God because of Jesus' suffering at the cross. This subject returned in the second part of the programme which started with Pender non prima by Luigi Rossi, a lament of Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross. It was followed by the most familiar piece in the programme, Hor ch'`e tempo di dormire, better known as Canzonetta spirituale sopra la ninna nanna, by Tarquinio Merula. It is a lullaby of Mary for her son Jesus, but here she expresses her sadness about his fate: his passion and his death at the cross. This was appropriately followed by a setting of the Stabat mater, a poetic description of Mary's lament at the cross. This version by Giovanni Felice Sances is not unfamiliar either, and has been recorded several times, for instance by Philippe Jaroussky.

Pieces with a more or less moralistic content were performed at the end of the first half of the programme. Mi son fatto nemico by Luigi Rossi expresses remorse about a sinful life, to such an extent that the protagonist says that he deserves to be destroyed. Remorse is also the subject of Non ha più loco by Kapsberger, this time more specifically about the sins of having given in to earthly love. It was appropriately followed by Sances' sacred concerto Audite me which sings the praise of an upright life, with strong reminiscences of Psalm 1. In Pietà, di chi so more, again by Kapsberger, the protagonist asks for God's help in the last hour of his life. Another piece by Luigi Rossi, Spiega un volo, urges for the abstinence of earthy love as it brings nothing than deception.

I was very pleased by the way the programme had been put together. It was particularly nice to hear some vocal pieces by Kapsberger who is mainly known for his compositions for his own instrument, the theorbo. These were also represented, brilliantly played by Bruno Helstroffer, in a truly improvisational manner. But Kapsberger's vocal music is not to be overlooked as the various items on the programme showed. Most impressive was Luigi Rossi's Pender non prima, a long monody which needs to be sung according to the ideal of recitar cantando - speechlike singing. Olga Pitarch did so quite well, and this way the deep grief of Mary Magdalene was penetratingly communicated. To that Marco Horvat contributed with his playing of the lirone. Equally impressive was Ms Pitarch's performance of the Stabat mater by Sances. I was less pleased by Mazzocchi's No me mueve mi Dios in which she all of a sudden used quite a lot of vibrato.

The most surprising performance was Merula's Canzonetta spirituale. Of course, one can't identify the performer with the protagonist of a piece, but if you look at the text it is very odd that it was sung by Marco Horvat. He did so rather well, although I missed the subtlety which I remember from various performances I have previously heard. There was something about his singing I find hard to get used to. It reminded me of the singing of Marco Beasley, only less convincing and also not always appropriate. In the duets the two singers didn't blend that well, and the balance between them was less than ideal.

Even so I enjoyed the concert because of the selection of pieces for the programme and the on balance good performances of the ensemble.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

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