Cardinal Mazarin was
a very powerful figure in France. He
was France's first minister from the
death of Louis XIII until his own death
in 1661. He was Italian and a great
lover of the arts. As a young man he
participated in the oratorio performances
in Rome, organised by the Jesuits. Later
he contributed to the rise of the Roman
opera. When in France, he wanted the
French to get knowledge of the developments
in Italian opera. He invited Italian
singers to perform in Luigi Rossi's
Orfeo to be performed at the French
court in 1647.
That wasn't the first
time Italians were invited to perform
in Paris. At the beginning of the 17th
century Giulio Caccini and his daughter
Francesca were demonstrating 'recitar
cantando' at the court of Henri IV and
Marie de' Medici.
"This disc presents
a number of pieces, mainly by Italian
composers, which became known in France
in the seventeenth century either through
manuscript copies or printed editions,"
writes Barbara Nestola in the booklet.
She states that French audiences were
moved both by Italian music and Italian
performers. Some French composers, like
François Roberday, openly admitted
they were influenced by the Italian
But she doesn't mention
the fact that there was also considerable
opposition to the increasing influence
of Italian music. The performance of
Rossi's Orfeo got a very mixed reception.
Some loved the music, others hated everything
that wasn't French. The whole production
cost Mazarin a fortune, which undermined
At the occasion of
the wedding of Louis XIV Mazarin took
another chance. It had to be magnificent,
and Mazarin didn't bother to spend enormous
amounts of money. A new theatre was
built by the most famous Italian architect
of that time, Gasparo Vigarani. It took
three years to build it and when it
was finished, Mazarin had already died.
He invited Francesco Cavalli, the leading
opera composer of Italy, to compose
an opera, which was Ercole amante. But
the performance wasn't a success. The
audience didn't understand the Italian
libretto and was more interested in
Lully's ballets, which were inserted
and in which the king and queen were
dancing. After the last performance
Cavalli went back to Italy, deeply hurt
by the negative reception his opera
Lully - also of Italian
origin - tried to stamp out the influence
of Italian music. He wouldn’t have to
do so, if the Italian style didn't have
its admirers. But he wouldn't have attempted
it, if his aims didn't find any support.
The programme on this
disc contains definitely some of the
finest and most exciting music. It is
a mixture of sacred and instrumental
music, and ends with a 'moral cantata'.
Some music is very virtuosic, like the
'Canzon per cornetto e violino in riposto',
in which violin and cornet are involved
in a florid dialogue which develops
towards an exciting climax. It is brilliantly
played here by Jean Tubéry and
Enrico Onofri, with bassoon, archlute
and organ realising the basso continuo
The opening item, Acclamate
de terra' by Maurizio Cazzati, is a
sacred concerto for the Virgin Mary.
Pieces like this mostly are quite exalted
in character, and this one is no exception.
The contrasts are realised well: on
the one hand the extraverted passages
like the opening section: "Acclaim her
from the earth sound her name from the
heaven", on the other hand the more
introverted section "To you, most serene
queen, may sinners come in haste". Philippe
Jaroussky has a rather light voice,
not very strong, but with a quite penetrating
sound and an unusually high tessitura.
He sings this work very well; the lower
notes on "ab inferis" (from the depths)
are a little weak. But his articulation
is very good, and the ornaments are
very well executed. In the exclamations
to Mary ("O Mary, our peace, our calm,
our trust, our joy!") the use of the
'messa di voce' would have made his
performance even more effective.
In the other vocal
items on this disc he shows his great
potential. Only in the last item, the
cantata by Bassani, the most dramatic
elements are not fully exploited. Considering
the general level of his performance,
and the fact that he is still at the
beginning of his career, we may expect
a lot more from him in the future.
Sometimes two items
are in the same track. The 'Passacaille'
which is attributed to Luigi Rossi is
taken here as a kind of prelude to the
opening recitative of Bassani's cantata.
That may make some sense, but the connection
between the chanson 'Bienheureuse est
une âme' - which has the same
melody as the Italian tune 'La Monica',
which Turini's Sonata a 3 is based upon
- and the following sacred concerto
by Fuggia is a mystery to me.
One commendable aspect
of this recording is the use of a large
organ both for the solo items and the
basso continuo. The fact that this organ
seems to be in meantone temperament
makes the solo pieces by Frescobaldi
and Roberday especially spicy and expressive.
I have been listening
to this recording with great pleasure.
It contains mostly pieces which are
not widely known and are probably recorded
here for the first time and they are
given first-class performances.
Johan van Veen