musical changes which took place in Italy in the first decades
of the 17th century are well summarised in the booklet of this
disc. "This was the period when the polyphonic madrigal
gradually gave way to the solo song with chordal accompaniment,
the church modes were replaced by new, harmonic tonalities,
new musical genres like opera and oratorios were introduced
and the boundaries between the vocal and instrumental idioms
became much sharper". All these things are demonstrated
on this disc, which features examples from some of the genres
in vogue at that time in Italy.
oeuvre of Claudio Monteverdi reflects several of these developments.
In his early books of madrigals he linked up with the style
of the Italian madrigals of the second half of the 16th century.
In his later books he tried to adapt his madrigals to the emerging
opera. The madrigals on this disc have little in common with
the traditional madrigal style of composers like Marenzio or
De Wert. The disc opens with 'Zefiro torna', a sonnet by Ottavio
Rinuccini, set for two voices with basso continuo. The text
begins with a line which has given this disc its title: "Zephyr
returns and with sweet accents makes pleasant the air and ruffles
the waves" (Zefiro torna e di soavi accenti l'aer fa grato
e il piè discoglie a l'onde). The bass part is a chaconne, which
is repeated consistently until the last stanza where the mood
of the sonnet changes: "Only I, in deserted and lonely
woods beweep and sing, as my fate decrees, the fire of two fair
eyes and my torment". At the closing stage of this stanza
the chaconne bass returns. The madrigal gets a very theatrical
performance here, thanks to the excellent declamation of the
two tenors and their use of the messa di voce.
repeated bass is also the foundation of the next item, 'Chiome
d'oro', which is much more light-hearted than the previous piece.
That doesn't quite come out here, as the tempo is a bit too
slow. The declamation of the two female singers could have been
third piece by Monteverdi is one of his most famous compositions,
the so-called 'Lamento della ninfa'. I find it a little pale:
the male voices are rather bland and the declamation of Lena-Susanne
Norin is less than ideal. I have heard better performances of
this particular work.
two sonatas by Dario Castello show that " the boundaries
between the vocal and instrumental idioms became much sharper",
as the liner notes say. They display a great amount of virtuosity,
and the possibilities of the violin are fully exploited. At
the same time the influence of the opera on instrumental music
can't be overlooked here. Their dramatic character is reflected
by the succession of strongly contrasting sections and the use
of daring harmonies. The instrumentalists of the ensemble give
very colourful performances of these two sonatas.
Carissimi was one of the main composers in Rome around the middle
of the 17th century. He was famous for his oratorios and his
cantatas. As late as in the second half of the 18th century
his music was still admired, as this quotation from the British
music historian Sir John Hawkins shows: "To Carissimi is
owing the perfection of the recitative style; this species of
music was invented by Jacopo Peri and Giulio Caccini (…) and
greatly improved by Claudio Monteverde; Carissimi excelled in
imitating the inflections of the human voice, and in uniting
the charms of music with the power of oratory". On this
disc compositions from both genres mentioned above prove the
truth of this assessment.
the cantata 'Apritevi inferni' is performed: it begins with
a long recitative which is followed by a dacapo aria. The cantata
may appear like a secular work, but in fact its content is religious:
"Open up, Hell, if I, with rebel desires, do not devote
my inner thoughts to the King of the stars. / Hear me, oh Heaven!
Shoot out vengeance in sharp arrows, if it should happen that
God complained of my heart". Even more explicit is the
aria: "To him who on earth does not obey God, may Heaven
enlist a conspiracy; and may indignant Nature order for him
nothing but war."
cantata is one of Carissimi's most dramatic and is musically
very demanding. It asks for a large tessitura and contains many
big leaps and long melismas. And as if this is not enough, the
character of the piece and its content dictate a pretty fast
tempo. Leif Aruhn-Solén sings this cantata admirably. Sometimes
he is less than comfortable at the highest extreme and in the
lowest notes in the recitative, but in the aria he masters the
notes at both ends very well. Perhaps the declamation in the
recitative could have been a little sharper, but the text is
delivered quite well. The instrumentalists give a dramatic performance
of the basso continuo part, but I regret the constant change
from harpsichord to organ in the recitative; totally uncalled-for
in my view.
oratorio 'Vanitas vanitatum' is infrequently performed and recorded;
hence it is all the more welcome. It contains two parts, the
first of which is a setting of words from Ecclesiastes. Every
stanza ends with the refrain "Vanitas vanitatum et omnia
vanitas" (Vanity of vanities, all is vanity). In the second
part a free poetic text draws conclusions from this verdict:
"Hence, O mortals, learn ye that the joys of the world
are empty, its labours vain, its honours fleeting, its favours
false, that all is vanity and but a shadow". The next stanzas
end all with a harsh conclusion: "Where are the famous
kings that gave the world its laws, where the leaders of peoples,
the founders of states? They are dust and ashes". And:
"where is Athens, where Carthage, and the like of ancient
Thebes? Only their name surviveth".
stanzas are set for solo voices and the refrains are sung by
the tutti. At several moments Carissimi uses harmony to express
the text, for instance in the second part on the words "Heu,
heu, nos miseros" (alas, alas, for we are wretched), or
shifts in tempo, like the speeding up on "sicut aquae dilabimur"
(like the waters shall we run out).
the nuances in the oratorio are well realised by the ensemble
and its members in the solo sections. The instruments also considerably
contribute to the dramatic power of this beautiful and very
the end the programme returns to Monteverdi
with one of his most expressive madrigals,
'Tempro la cetra', which is preceded
and concluded by an instrumental sinfonia.
Johan Linderoth is giving a very powerful
and emotional interpretation of the
text, a sonnet by Giambattista Marino:
"I tune the lyre, and to sing the
glories of Mars, apply myself to pen
and poetry." Very moving is how
Linderoth sings the concluding phrase:
"may sleep in Venus' lap, lulled
by your song". The Sinfonia which
follows ends with a repeat of the opening
of the piece, and is played here with
brings to a close a recording which I rate highly, even though
one can't overlook that the performers are not Italian and that
some of the pieces could have been performed with a little more
drama. That said, the overall achievement of these Scandinavian
musicians is impressive. The brilliance and emotional character
of this repertoire is well communicated by this fine ensemble.
Johan van Veen