This new recital, Love
Letters, from Giovanni Cantarini
and Il Vero Modo requires some explanation.
If you glance at the CD contents page
the various lettere amorose,
toccatas and villanelles are labelled
antiphon, psalm, concerto in loco
repetitur and so on.
The performers have
taken a secular programme of music by
Monteverdi and others and structured
it like the vespers service. The centre-pieces
are five lettre amorose, which are performed
in lieu of five psalms. These are each
preceded by a toccata, instead of an
antiphon, and followed by a villanelle
- about birds as messengers of love
or companions of lovers - as doxologies.
Instead of the repeat of the antiphons,
there are concertos based on five motets
setting words from ‘The Song of Solomon’.
This sounds arcane
and not a little artificial, but it
works remarkably well. The recital is
given a strong structure and the five
lettre amorose are framed beautifully
by some rather apt music.
As regards performance
style, the group seem to have gone back
to first principles. With the increasing
generalisation of performers, there
are fewer who can be described as early
music specialists. Whilst this is, generally,
a good thing and horizons are broadened,
Il Vero Modo comment on the increasing
departure of performers from the performing
style as prescribed in contemporary
treatises. I can think of a number of
recent discs on which singers with a
predominantly 19th century
technique have made interesting and
remarkable forays into period performance.
In some instances, such as discs by
Ian Bostridge and Rolando Villazon,
the results have been illuminating and
reflect the singers’ intelligence. But
once in a while, you feel the need to
return to first principles, and this
is what Il Vero Modo aim to do.
Tenor Giovanni Cantarini
has a voice with a good sense of line.
His timbre has a nice degree of edge
to it, which is just what I like in
this music. He reminds me at times of
Nigel Rogers, which is no bad thing
at all. His vocal delivery is a world
away from the vibrato-laden 19th
century tenor. His delivery is very
word-driven, which of course is just
what these pieces need. His passion
comes from articulation of the words
and inflection of the music. He certainly
does not sing with that white-toned
perfection which I associated with the
English school in this music, but he
rarely overdoes things. Just occasionally
his delivery is a little compromised
by some strain at the top and in some
of the more virtuoso passages his delivery
can be smudged. But these are small
faults compared to my generally favourable
impression of his delivery.
Cantarini sings the
five lettere amorose and the five villanelle.
In these he his accompanied by a continuo
provided by two chitarroni. These also
play the toccatas. For the concertos
the group take motets and play them
instrumentally, a very common practice.
More unusually, the vocal line is taken
by a renaissance transverse flute played
in a high 4' register. Though not common
in this repertoire, this type of playing
was a speciality of cornetto players.
In fact, the results sound remarkably
cornetto-like at times.
There were moments
in the concerto, when I did wonder about
slight vagaries in the flute's tuning.
Generally I found these pieces played
in an apposite and moving manner, so
I am happy to not worry about these
slight tuning irregularities. Additionally,
of course, it might simply be that my
ears are not accustomed to the tuning
used for the performance. The instrumental
performers match the singer perfectly
and combine in their own pieces to give
a real feel of chamber music-making.
of the lettere amorose by Monteverdi,
Sigismondo d'India, Frescobaldi and
Carissimi lie at the heart of this recital.
These are pieces which suit the performer’s
understated and focused but passionate
delivery style. It helps, of course,
that Cantarini is singing in his native
The booklet includes
a helpful article by Sven Schwannberger,
detailing what is being performed, why
and how. There are texts in Italian/Latin,
German and English for all the vocal
pieces and for the motets which are
given in instrumental transcriptions.
I enjoyed this recital
immensely. The combination of scholarship
and imagination, have given us a recital
which has re-imagined this repertoire
without transgressing the contemporary
rules of performance; quite a feat.