> Wordplay 16th Century chansons []: Classical Reviews- June 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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  Founder: Len Mullenger

Madrigals and Chansons in virtuoso instrumental settings from sixteenth-century Italy.
Composers include Ebreu; Capirola; Ortiz; Bassano; dalla Casa; Bovicelli; Rognono; Willaert; Ganassi; Lupi; Terzi;
Musica Antiqua of London directed by Philip Thorby
Recorded in the National Centre for Early Music, York, December 2000
SIGNUM CD 031 [65.00?]

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In the summer of 2000, York opened its wonderful ‘National Centre for Early Music’ in the redundant church of St.Margaret, Walmgate. This recording is one of the first made there, and it is a beautiful recording in an ideal acoustic. Long may these recordings continue. There is a Christmas early music festival as well as the big York Early music festival in July. Musica Antiqua of London are regulars at the festivals. One of their fortes is this virtuoso repertoire.

The CD has a slightly misleading title as we are only presented with instrumental works. The idea is to take instrumental divisions on five famous songs of the century and one bass-dance tenor. These divisions, or passagi, may be for recorder (for instance Bassano’s arrangement of Rore’s lyrical madrigal ‘Ancor che col partire’ played dextrously by Philip Thorby) or for bass viol (as in Rognioni’s ‘Ancor che col partire’ played wonderfully expressively by Alison Crum), or for lute (as in Jacob Heringman’s athletic rendering of Capirola’s La Spagna). The ‘La Spagna’ bass dates from the 15th Century as does, I believe, the piece by Ebreu. The last pieces on the CD date from some 200 years later.

Signum have taken as a starting point various treaties beginning with Sylvestro Ganassi’s ‘La Fontegara’ of 1535. This is on ‘the true art of recorder playing’ but contains instructions on ornamentation, also applicable to other wind and indeed string players. Ganassi was at pains to say that it was vocal music and therefore the expression of poetry that he so much admired and which he wanted instrumentalists to emulate in dynamic range, articulation and tonal variety. As a demonstration we are given Willaert’s madrigal ‘Cantai’ or ‘piango’ first played as written, on viols then given a lengthy and, I’m sorry to say, tedious ornamented version based on Ganassi. Ganassi’s next publication of 1542 ‘Regola Rubertina’ deals with the practical aspects to quote Thorby’s fascinating booklet notes of "stringing, tuning and playing" with various technical points elucidated. As an example of this listen to Bovicelli’s expressionist ‘affeti’ in ‘Ancor che col partire’. Ganassi’s 1535 treatise is primarily about composing and playing instrumental music. The other composers represented often put into print their own views on instrumental divisions for example Ortiz, Girolamo dalla Casa and Bassano. Their approach was to have copied examples of their own work for performers to play through. An example of this is track 12 - Bassano’s ‘Susanne ung jour’ and track 16 Dalla Casa’s ‘Vestiva I colli’.

Following the score in the London Pro Musica edition by Bruno Turner one sees clearly how these pieces work. The madrigal ‘Anchor ce col partire’ is set on the lower two lines quite straight, and can be played by either two viols or lute. If you can find a CD called ‘Early Italian Madrigals’ (Pro Arte CDD 286) you can hear Gustav Leonhardt playing these exact lower lines on a harpsichord!. Above the lower two lines are three separate passagi by various composers, not to be played together of course, but put on top of each other to show various alternatives and variants. This edition is often used on this CD and one is also reminded that despite the acute elaborations of the music it is still appropriate to ornament long notes and cadences in addition.

To prove that the art of instrumental divisions continued into later times the disc ends with another variant of ‘Vestiva I colli’ by the Spaniard Bartolomeo de Selma y Salaverde. This is dated c.1638 and is entirely free of any anchor.

The seventeen instruments used on this CD are all recent copies of ancient ones. Philip Thorby plays four, three types of recorder and a bass viol. Jacob Heringman plays three types of lute and a bass viol. Alison Crum tackles five sizes of viol. John Bryan is on bass viol and chamber organ, which holds its own perfectly when virtuoso divisions swim around it. Roy Marks plays the great bass viol and Andrew Kerr a bass viol. The booklet also tells us who made the bows and who made the strings.

Talking of the booklet, it is up to the usual high standard of this company. The essay being translated into German and French, and with notes on the performers and their previous recordings. The back of the booklet should, in my view, give the composer’s full names and it would have been a helpful touch if someone had looked up their dates and printed them. After all these men are hardly well known figures and a little more detail is always of interest.

This CD can be enjoyed on three levels: Intellectually, following the melodic variations and contrasts in styles; secondly, admiration of the players and their versatility and virtuosity; and finally, in the late evening, with a glass of red wine in one hand and say, Castiglione’s ‘Book of the Courtier’ in the other.

Gary Higginson

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