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Marco CARA (1470-1525) Ostinato vo seguire [3.19]; Per fuggir d’amor le punte [2.45]; Io non compro piu speranze [2.23] Bartolomeo Tromboncio ( 1470-1535) Su, su leva, alza le ciglia [ 3.24]; per dolor me bagno el viso [4.20]; Ave Maria [ 1.43]; Vegene bella [5.39];
Filippo AZZAIOLO (d. 1569) Chi passa par ‘sts strada [1.56}
Antonio STRINGARI (XVI century) Non piu saetta Amor (1.55);
Antonio CAPRIOLI (XVI century) Sotto un verde e alto cipresso (4.34);
Guido MORINI (b.1959) ‘Per dolor- instrumental (1.51);
Jacobo FOGLIANO (1468-1548) L’amor donna, ch’io te porto [1.47];
Orlando LASSUS (1532-1594) Madonna mia pieta [5.45];
Guglielmo il GIUGGIOLA (fl. c.1515) Canto di Lantze Pellegrino [2.48];
Paolo SCOTO (XVI c) Capra moza sonemus et cantemus [1.05};
Gio. Ambrogio DALZA (d.1508) Saltarello e piva [ 5.35];
Filippo de LURANO (1475-1520) Se m’e grato eltuo tomare [2.44];
Pietro BORRONO (c.1490-c.1563) Pavana e salterello " della Millanese"[2.33};
Marco BEASLEY (b. 1957) Tu dormi [2.58];
ANON (c.1500) Pan de miglio caldo [ 2.50]; Pavan e gagliardo " della Traditora" [3.50]; Staralla ben cusi [1.39]
Marco Beasley (tenor); Guido Morini, organ; Stefano Rocco, lute and renaissance guitar; Franco Pavan, lute; Fabio accuro lute "a plettro"; Bruce Dickey, cornetto
rec. Tibor Varga Foundation Studio, Sion, Switzerland, 28 April-1 May 2005
CYPRES CYP 1643 [69.03]

The frottola was a popular song-form in late 15th Century and early 16th Century Italy. The back of this CD gives a more poetic description: "musical miniatures that sing of human passion with nobility and restraint". Its leading exponents were Marcetto Cara and Bartolomeo Tromboncino both represented here as is that most versatile of masters Orlando Lassus. In addition this CD allows us an opportunity to hear music by other lesser known and rarely heard composers.

In truth much of this repertoire has been recorded quite often and so I have been able to make comparisons with two other easily available recordings ‘Occelino’ with London Pro Musica and countertenor Kevin Smith on Hyperion [66183] of 1983 and on Chandos recorded by ‘Circa 1500’ in 1984 (CHAN 1110) with that wonderful singer Emily van Evera. .With all of these discs the songs, which can appear to be a little ‘samey’, are divided up by instrumental items. On the Hyperion disc they flow seamlessly in and out between the songs. I rather wish that on this new disc there were more of these as the cornetto playing of Bruce Dickey as it is so superb, clean and beautiful almost vocal is its effect. Nevertheless we often hear instrumental arrangements of the songs to break up the strophic structures.

An important ingredient in art music of around 1500 was the use of popular melodies often used as reference points. These tunes make a contrast with the words and it’s worth spending a few moments reading over the texts of these songs before hearing them.

The poetic forms are many and varied and include the ‘Barzelleta’, ‘Lauda’, ‘Capitolo’ and ‘Strambotto’ The composers of frottola liked to set poems by serious poets or even by great ones like Petrarch as Tromboncini does with ‘Vergine Bella’ (which had also been set 50 years before by Dufay), which tastefully, practically ends this recital .These texts often reflect the prevailing humanistic viewpoint of the times. It’s more than likely the composers also sometimes wrote their own texts; let me give you a taste of their philosophical flavour.

Trombonico’s song ‘Per dolor’ tells us "I weep for the good there was in my precious life/That with sweet and bitter ceaselessly invites me to sigh/The memory graven in my heart in exchange/Leads me to tears when I think of what has been".

It seems to me that the text and the beautifully wistful, pained melody link us with a terrible event in the composer’s life, that is the murder of his wife whom he caught ‘in delecto flagrante’, just as the more notorious Carlo Gesualdo was to do 100 years later.

Some texts are distinctly pained and poetical. ‘Per Figgir d’amor’ by Cara begins " Like an evil minded tyrant, wondering up the hill and down dale One day I was prey to great torment", one is reminded here of the later texts for madrigals.

Two of the pieces are by performers Marco Beasley and Guido Morini. Their style deliberately does not stand apart from the early music but it is obviously not entirely ancient. Beasley’s ‘Tu dormi’ ends the disc and its background is explained in the booklet at the back. The music is based on a traditional tune from Puglia and very beautiful it is too. Which brings me to the performers and performances themselves.

I like very much the gentle, supple and clear tenor voice of Marco Beasley but I do so wish that sometimes he would vary his approach his dynamics and be a little impassioned, for example in the Lassus song with its words "I cry and you do not hear me/" and later "I have called on your grace so much that I have almost lost my voice". Only for the last two lines does Beasley raise the emotional level just a notch. But then in the same repertoire Emily van Evera and Kevin Smith sing the songs mostly ‘straight’ without emotionally colouring the words as you would say in Schubert. You may be glad of that, personally I feel cheated.

I have already mentioned Bruce Dickey’s haunting contribution but the other instrumentalists are equally superb in ensemble skills, ornamentation and balance created also by the very natural recording.

The top-quality CD booklet is attached to its cardboard cover. It runs to 67 pages with texts in four languages and sometimes notes describing them, biographies of the composers and background to the music written by the ideally named Francesco Pavan, with details about the instruments and rehearsal photographs.

Gary Higginson



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