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Luigi ROSSI (1507-1653)
Le Canterine Romane - Roman cantatas for two and three sopranos
Disperate speranze 3 [05:04]
Piango, prego e sospiro a 3 [04:44]
Infelice pensier 2 [11:13]
Passacaille del seigneur Luigi [02:43]
Corrente [01:05]
Occhi belli 2 [02:54]
Sarabanda [01:09]
Balletto [00:42]
Noi siam tre donzellette semplicette 3 [28:48]
Ai sospiri, al dolore 2 [03:13]
Arie di passacaglia [03:31]
Speranza al tuo pallore 2 [03:20]
Poi che manc la speranza [05:42]
Fan battaglia 3 [02:56]
Tragicomedia (Barbara Borden, Suzie LeBlanc, Emily Van Evera (soprano); Pivi Jrvi, (mezzo); Erin Headley (viola da gamba, lirone); Stephen Stubbs (chitarrone, guitar); Andrew Lawrence-King (arpa doppia, harpsichord, organ))/Stephen Stubbs
rec. September 1992, Sender Freies Berlin, Germany. DDD
WARNER APEX 2564 61782-2 [77:40]

Luigi Rossi was one of Italy's most celebrated composers of the 17th century. He was mentioned in the same breath as Cavalli: Rossi's stature in Rome was comparable to that of Cavalli in Venice. They are also similar in that their fame stretched as far as France. Operas by Cavalli and Rossi were performed in Paris, mainly thanks to Cardinal Mazarin, who was of Italian origin and tried to enthuse French audiences about Italian music.
But whereas Cavalli's fame is mainly based on his operas, the bulk of Rossi's output consists of secular vocal music. This disc offers an overview of the genres represented in his oeuvre. All the pieces here are written for two or three voices with basso continuo. Some, like 'Infelice pensier', a 'dialogue between thought and lover', are very dramatic and stylistically connected to opera. Others are similar to contemporary arias for solo voice, like the lament 'Disperate speranze, addio' (Desperate hopes, farewell). The longest work, 'Noi siam tre donzelette semplicette', is very different. It is a comical piece in which the 'three little innocent maids' make a fool of men because of their "empty babbling" about their love for women. "There is a man who swears that my eyes are like the sun itself! Now imagine if I believe that, because the sun gives light and in the dark I can't see!"
The pieces on this disc are written for two or three female voices. And Luigi Rossi had specific singers in mind. 'Le Canterine Romane' was a trio of singers, consisting of a mother and her two daughters. The mother, Adreana Basile, sang with two sisters at the Mantuan court early in the 17th century, where Monteverdi got to know her. She had two daughters: Leonora (b.1611) and Caterina (b.1620), who also became singers. After a stay in Naples from 1624 to 1633 they settled in Rome where they often performed and were part of the circle around Cardinal Barberini. All three not only sang, but also accompanied themselves and each other on instruments, like lirone, viola da gamba and harp. Leonarda was considered the most brilliant of the three. A whole collection of poems was written in her honour. And in 1639 the English poet John Milton heard them and wrote three epigrams in honour of Leonora as well. In that same year the French gambist Andr Maugars heard them during his visit to Rome and wrote that "three fine voices and three different instruments so took my senses by surprise ... I forgot my mortality and thought I was already among the angels".
Luigi Rossi and the three ladies knew each other well. Leonora sent some of Rossi's music to Cristina of France, Regent of Savoy. And when the Francophile Barberini family was banished from Rome - after the death of Cardinal Barberini's uncle, Pope Urban VII - both Luigi Rossi and Leonarda found protection at the French court, under the patronage of Cardinal Mazarin.
There can hardly be any doubt that Luigi Rossi wrote these cantatas specifically for these three fine singers. For this reason the disc does not restrict itself to a selection of Rossi's cantatas. Instead it also gives an idea about the art of the ladies who left nobody unmoved by their singing. Whether the three ladies on this disc - the mezzo only takes part in the first two items - are a match for their 17th-century predecessors is anyone's guess, but their singing is certainly exciting. This recording demonstrates that being Italian is no prerequisite to revealing the emotion in this kind of music. One need only slough off any shreds of reserve, and that is what the singers do here. Another important aspect of this recording is the playing of the basso continuo which supports the singers brilliantly and follows the 'affetti' very closely. The musicians also give splendid performances of some instrumental compositions which are of the same quality as Rossi's vocal works.
In my view this is one of the best recordings of 17th century Italian music ever made. I am very pleased that it is available again, and at budget price too.
Johan van Veen


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