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Giulio Caccini and his circle
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
E così poco a poco [3:08]
Giulio CACCINI (1550-1618)
Movetevi a pietà [2:53]
Queste lagrim'amare [4:40]
Dolcissimo sospiro [2:17]
Bellerofonte CASTALDI (1580-1649)
Tasteggio soave [4:16]
Amor, io parto [2:49]
Sfogava con le stelle [3:46]
Non più guerra [2:38]
Non più guerra, pietate [2:51]
Giovanni Girolamo KAPSBERGER (c.1580-1651)
Toccata [libro I] [2:16]
Perfidissimo volto [2:55]
Perfidissimo volto [3:22]
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583 - 1643)
Toccata X [4:31]
Vedro'l mio sol [3:32]
Amarilli mia bella [2:30]
Cruda Amarilli [3:17]
Peter PHILIPS (1560 - 1628)
Amarilli Di Julio Romano [4:00]
Sfogava con le stelle [2:38]
Fortunato augellino [3:10]
Quel augellin, che canta [2:03]
Dovro dunque morire [2:07]
Filli, mirando il cielo [3:19]
Il Rapimento di Cefalo:
Ineffabil ardore [1:06]
La Nuova Musica (Elizabeth Weisberg (soprano); Rachael Lloyd (mezzo); David Bates (alto); Kevin Kyle, Simon Wall (tenor); James Arthur (bass-baritone); Richard Sweeney (chitarrone); Joseph McHardy (harpsichord))/David Bates
rec. 8-10 January 2007, St Nicholas' Church, Great Munden, Hertfordshire, UK. DDD
SOMM SOMMCD083 [69:20] 


Experience Classicsonline

Giulio Caccini was the key figure in the emergence of the new style which we call 'baroque'. In particular his view on the relationship between text and music had a lasting effect on the way music was composed. In the 'stile antico' - the polyphony of the renaissance - the music was dominant over the text. Caccini stated that it should be the other way round. His ideal was the 'recitar cantando', a speech-like way of singing, which was more able to move the soul than the 'old style'. This ideal found its expression in particular in the monody, a vocal piece for one voice and basso continuo. But his aesthetic ideals also found their way into the polyphonic madrigal of his days. In particular Monteverdi's later madrigals are evidence of that. And even the instrumental music of that time shows the traces of Caccini's ideals in vocal music. Therefore it makes sense to combine Caccini's monodies with madrigals from Monteverdi's books 3, 4 and 5 and instrumental pieces for chitarrone and harpsichord.

In order to express the meaning of the text and to move the soul of the listener it wasn't enough just to sing the text as written down. One of Caccini's principles of performance was the so-called 'sprezzatura', the flexible approach to rhythm and tempo. Another important aspect was the use of dynamics: crescendi and diminuendi on single notes - and especially long notes. This was an important tool to express emotion. One of the rhetorical figures which was frequently used was the 'esclamazio', the sudden swelling or fading of the voice. And then there was the use of ornaments which wasn't only a way to express emotions but also to surprise and please the audience. 

The Italian repertoire from the first decades of the 17th century has always fascinated musicians and audiences. In particular Monteverdi and Caccini have been performed from the very early days of historical performance practice. In the 1970s and 1980s the interpretation of their music was dominated by English musicians and ensembles. Eminent among these were Nigel Rogers - who played a key role in the promotion of the Italian monody - and the Consort of Musicke. But when in the 1990s Italian ensembles like Concerto Italiano burst onto the scene and presented their interpretation of their own musical heritage performances by British groups were considered by many too bland and too polished. Nowadays the interpretation of this kind of repertoire is clearly dominated by the Italians. 

It is some time ago that I last heard Caccini and Monteverdi in British performances. I didn't know this particular ensemble and I was curious to find out in what way they have been influenced by the Italian recordings of recent years. To my astonishment I have not been able to detect any influence at all. I dare say that the performances of Monteverdi's madrigals by the Consort of Musicke were more expressive than those of La Nuova Musica on offer here. And the interpretations of Caccini's monodies by, for instance, Nigel Rogers and Catherine Bott, are much more in line with what the composer expected than those by the members of La Nuova Musica. 

Far too little of Caccini's ideals I referred to above has been realised. There is little dynamic contrast, and something like the 'messa di voce' - the crescendo on a single note - is virtually absent. There is too little rhythmic flexibility or differentiation of tempo; the articulation is generally rather unsatisfactory. These performances are miles distant from the 'recitar cantando', the declamatory style of singing Caccini advocated. In return we get something which this repertoire definitely does not ask for: a pretty wide vibrato from most of the singers which undermines the ensemble in the madrigals by Monteverdi. David Bates is the exception. The performance of his madrigal 'Non più guerra' puts us back to the 1970s. 

The most disappointing thing about this recording is the lack of expression. It is really beyond me how a line like 'He gave vent to his grief, a hell of love, talking to the stars under the night sky" (Sfogava con le stelle) can sound so flat and uninvolving. Or, to give one other example, the performance of "No more war! Pity, pity on me, ye lovely eyes!" (Non più guerra) is pale and boring. And there are many recordings of the evergreen 'Amarilli mia bella' which are much more expressive. The instrumental pieces fare no better: the pieces for chitarrone are done rather well, but the ones for harpsichord are neither fish nor fowl. 

I have tried to find positive things to say, but I can't. Even the booklet has serious shortcomings: the lyrics of three pieces by Monteverdi are not printed: E così poco a poco, Cruda Amarilli, Quel Augellin. In the scoring list the details for tracks 8 and 9 are swapped: Monteverdi's 'Non più guerra' isn't sung by James Arthur, but by the ensemble. And in track 18 five singers are mentioned, but just one is singing. 

But in the light of the level of these performances it doesn't really matter. This disc is bland and boring - avoid it!

Johan van Veen


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