Vanitas vanitatum or "Vanity of Vanities" apart from being the
title of a composition probably by Carissimi, applies to a mode
of thinking in Rome particularly, where man should turn his
mind from worldly things and towards God; all is vanity and
illusion. This collection of composers was much taken with the
precepts of these ideals and produced very beautifully crafted
rhetorical and self-commanding works. The style throughout is
Italian early baroque and typically flowery. The works of Carissimi,
Rossi and Landi are comparatively familiar in this period, but
I must admit to not knowing of Marazzoli and the brothers Mazzocchi,
Domenico being a priest and a much-admired musician, whilst
Virgilio was the musical director of the Capella Giulia at St.
Peter's. The type of music, given a common theme is very similar
throughout, although the varied voices and instruments give
some relief from sameness. Far better though to use the disc
to sample different verses quite separately rather than in one
whole, otherwise a degree of ennui can easily follow.
With artists of the calibre of Tragicomedia, we have
the best of every world, and both the singing and the playing
are exemplary and tasteful. The interpretations are well presented
with a lightness of touch and rhythm which complements the ornamentation
within the pieces. The instrumentation particularly is difficult,
and extremely well played, whilst the singers have to employ
many vocal dexterities to cope with the florid demands of the
music and period; this is very evident in the pieces demanding
solo voices involving the tenor and bass, but all members acquit
themselves well. The instrumental ensemble gives a good example
of the sound of various renaissance instrumental combinations,
involving lirone, archlute and arpa doppia in addition to violins,
viols and organ. The recording throughout is extremely good
with excellent tonal balance and an ideal ambience from the
Doopsgezinde Kerk in Haarlem.
The booklet is quite remarkable for a budget recording;
all the words are given in Italian (the language of the recording)
but also with sensible and well-versed English translations
by Richard Abrams, Tim Carter and Margaret Mabbett. There is
also a full description of the composers in the context of the
period, this first section written by Erin Headley being provided
with French and German translations from the English. The artists
who perform in each piece are identified, as are the instrumentalists.
It is not clear, however, which of the two directors, Stephen
Stubbs or Erin Headley, is responsible for which piece.
All in all, a delightful disc which I am sure will appeal
to anyone interested in this period of Italian music. Particularly
at budget price it should also allow these lesser known works
to reach a wider audience. Thoroughly recommended.