> Zipoli Cantata etc [CH]: Classical Reviews- May 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Domenico ZIPOLI (1688-1726)
Cantate: Dell’offese a vendicarmi (1), Mia Bella Irene (2), Sonata for violin and basso continuo (3), Sonate d’Intavolature: Canzoni in D minor, F, E minor, C, G minor, Toccata, All’Elevazione in F, All’Elevazione in C, All’Offertorio, Al Post comunio, Pastorale (4)
Adriana Fernandez (soprano) (2), Victor Torres (baritone) (1), Pablo Valetti (3), Ensemble Elyma [Eduardo Egüez (arch-lute), Hannelore Devaere (harp), Ricardo Massun (viola da gamba, baroque violoncello)]/Gabriel Garrido (1-3), Dominique Ferran (organ) (1-4)
Recorded 27-30 August 1993, Córdoba (Argentina) (1-3), 8-10 Oct. 1993, Monticello (Corsica) (4)
K617 K617037 [65.39]
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Domenico Zipoli offers the rather fascinating figure of a composer who, having achieved considerable fame by his 28th year, left everything to accompany a Jesuit mission to Paraguay, possibly to escape from an impossible relationship (because of their social differences) with Maria Strozzi, his patron and the author of the text for the first of these Cantatas.. Zipoli’s music was apparently much in demand in his new home and he died in Córdoba, Argentina. How much of the music he wrote during his Latin American period survives has never been clear to me (musical dictionaries just say he wrote a lot). In reality we know very little about Zipoli for certain. The booklet notes by Alain Pacquier steer their way through a mazes of unknowns with considerable mastery. A "may have" here, a "perhaps" there; here an "it has been conjectured that", there a "we do not know for certain"; and the sum of our earthly knowledge of this composer is presented as readably and plausibly as it is ever likely to be. Furthermore, since I recently waxed sarcastic about the translations accompanying a K617 CD, I should add that the anonymous translator here copes with all the subjunctives and conditionals very well.

The quality of the few works we have from Zipoli’s European years (to which this CD is dedicated) suggest we may be the losers if most of his production has disappeared. His slim volume of keyboard works has long been a favourite with Italian organists since, for all their backward looks at the world of Frescobaldi (and the Venetian school in the Toccata) they also offer a linearity and a rhythmic exhilaration which is one of the organist’s few compensations for the high baroque music Vivaldi et al didn’t write (Italian organ music virtually petered out after Frescobaldi and his direct descendant Pasquini, who was one of Zipoli’s teachers). Here we have the whole first book (the second is really harpsichord music) except for the brief Versetti, a few of which might have been included since the CD has about ten minutes to spare. Though I have long known and played these pieces, this was my first encounter with the Cantatas and the Sonata which, apart from two oratorios, complete our knowledge of his surviving European works. I found them most impressive, well-written, varied, expressive where called for and clear-cut in form. They definitely belong to the new baroque world of Alessandro Scarlatti (another of Zipoli’s teachers, but it seems they did not get on). The violin playing is of a very high standard, as is the colourful but not intrusive continuo ensemble. The baritone is also an excellent singer with a firm, well-placed voice and plenty of agility (example 1: track 1 from the beginning). About the soprano I am not so sure. This is a typical "early music" voice, with a complete avoidance of vibrato. Nothing wrong with that in itself, but without a trace of vibrato the slightest lapse of intonation is all the more noticeable, and she is often just slightly under the note. She is also limp with consonants. It is conspicuous that as she starts her second aria – and the same thing happens every time the phrase returns – she comes out with an excellent high G, with a real quality to it. So it seems that her range below the "break" has not been properly studied (example 2: track 5 from 5’ 23"). Her curriculum lists Ernst Haefliger, Philippe Huttenlocher, Heather Harper and Eric Tappy among her teachers, but these "studied with" lists on CVs do not really tell us much if we don’t know what the distinguished teachers actually thought about their pupil.

The organ pieces were recorded on a historical organ in Corsica, and it sounds a really splendid instrument. The sheer sound (well-caught by the engineers) would justify purchase of the disc by itself – but this comment in itself implies that Ferran has chosen his registrations with much intelligence. I recently took a strong aversion to Sergio Vartolo’s manhandling of a similar repertoire (K617039 and emphatically not recommended), pointing out that this music is not an exercise in free rubato but has a "tactus" that rolls inexorably on. I don’t agree with every detail of Ferran’s performances but this basic sense of rhythmic movement, this rolling inexorably on, is present, not least in the Toccata (example 3: track 2 from 1, 26"). I also reviewed performances by Timothy Uglow of a few of these pieces not so long ago on a disc otherwise dedicated to Leonardo Leo (ASV CD GAU 226 and only a cautious recommendation), feeling they were too much spelt out, lacking the baroque sense of exhilaration. Ferran is only a shade faster and this already makes a considerable difference. He has opted to ornament the music heavily, which would have prevented him from going faster still, and this brings me to my principal difference of opinion with him. In a piece like the Toccata, where extremely decorative passages alternate with simple chordal writing, does it not limit this contrast if the performer adds his own decorations to the simple parts? Was the composer not simply enjoying the sound of his rich chords and his suspensions, which would still have seemed new and "harsh" in his own days?

Very briefly, the arguments pro and con ornamentation are: Italian publications of the 16th and 17th Century contain virtually none, while French ones of the same period contain lots; English copies of some of these Italian pieces (for example, those sections of Frescobaldi which Blow imported wholesale into his own works) have ornaments added. This could mean either that English organists, basically French-oriented, wished the French style upon the Italian composers, or that Italian organists were known to ornament their music even if they didn’t write it in the scores and the English preferred to write the ornaments in for their own use. The sheer beauty of the musical effect when ornaments are reduced to a minimum (at cadences, for example) leads me to side with the first view and I therefore feel that Ferran is interpreting Zipoli a little in the style of Couperin. But he is a fine organist, no doubt about it, and a persuasive proponent for his point of view.

In spite of a few reservations (and Fernandez’s contribution is brief), this is an excellent overall presentation of a composer – and also an organ – well worth knowing. The handsome booklet contains notes and translations of the Cantata texts in French, Spanish and English. The only blot is that the original Italian of the sung texts seems not to have been proof-read, at least not by somebody who knows Italian, and the type-setter is evidently under the impression that accents in Italian are a dispensable luxury – a treatment not meted out to French or Spanish. Accents in Italian are few compared with French, but they affect both grammar and meaning, and their omission makes for confusing reading.

Christopher Howell


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