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Francesca CACCINI (1587
– c.1641) O vive rose [3:04] Non sò se quel sorriso [3:29] Rendi alle mie speranze il verde [4:05] Io veggio i campi verdeggiar fecondi [3:30] Se muove [3:15] Dolce Maria [3:01] Lasciatemi qui solo [5:54] S'io men vò [2:23] Regina celi [2:23] Dov'io credea le mie speranze vere [4:22] Ch'Amor sia nudo [2:35] O chiome belle [2:44] Io mi distruggo [4:41] Te lucis ante terminum [2:57] La pastorella [3:14] [Quattro Canzoni di mio padre] [4:09] Su le piume de' venti trionfator [3:40] Fresche aurette [1:32]
Shannon Mercer (soprano), Amanda Keesmaat (cello), Sylvain Bergeron
(theorbo, guitar), Luc Beauséjour (harpsichord, organ)
rec. 2-4 November 2009, Église Saint-Augustin, Mirabel (Québec),
ANALEKTA AN 2 9966 [61:54]
The name Giulio Caccini appears in every book on music history.
He was the first representative of the stile nuovo, and
himself claimed to be its inventor. Far less commonly known
is that he had a daughter who was very famous as a singer, and
who also made a name for herself as a composer. The best-known
female composer of the 17th century is certainly Barbara Strozzi,
whose music is very well represented on disc. In comparison
little attention has been paid to the music of Francesca Caccini.
So it was a splendid idea of Shannon Mercer and Luc Beauséjour
to put together a programme with her music.
Francesca Caccini must have enjoyed a very good education: not
only was she a virtuosic singer, she also played the keyboard,
the guitar and the harp, and wrote poetry in Italian and Latin.
As a singer she is assumed to have participated in the first
performance of Jacopo Peri's opera L'Euridice, and also
in her father's opera Il rapimento di Cefalo, both in
1600. For most of her life she was at the service of the Medici
family, and moved in the highest circles, marrying a nobleman
after her first husband had died.
Compared to Barbara Strozzi modern performers have little to
choose from in Francesca Caccini's oeuvre. She wrote a considerable
number of dramatic works, all of which are lost, with the exception
of the comedy La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina.
Otherwise there’s just one book with pieces for one and two
voices and basso continuo. It was printed in 1618 and is entitled
Il primo libro delle musiche. It contained pieces of
diverse character as the programme on this disc goes to show.
Some are canzonettas: strophic pieces with a pretty strict,
mostly dance-like rhythm, as O vive rose, which opens
the programme. S'io men vò is also strophic, but includes
a refrain. Often canzonettas are of a somewhat light-hearted
nature, as with the closing piece, Fresche aurette, but
they can also be serious, as Se muove a giurar fede.
Because of their strophic structure there is little freedom
for the performer. Ornaments should be added, but the rhythm
must be strictly observed. Shannon Mercer does just that: she
explores the possibilities for ornamentation, but the often
infectious rhythms remain intact.
There is more freedom in the arias and madrigals. Often they
are not strophic (La pastorella). Even if they are, as
is the case with Lasciatemi qui solo, there is much more
rhythmic freedom, which allows for the addition of virtuosic
ornaments, in particular to emphasize elements in the text or
express affetti. The madrigals are more or less of the
same structure. Shannon Mercer's performance of these pieces
is very impressive. Her ornaments are technically impeccable,
stylish and differentiated.
An important aspect of the interpretation of Italian music from
the 17th century is the treatment of dynamics. Crescendi and
diminuendi were often used for expressive reasons. The messa
di voce was one of the tools singers were expected to use.
In recordings of this kind of repertoire I have often noticed
that singers ignore that aspect. I am happy to say that Shannon
Mercer does not, although she is sometimes too modest in this
respect. Even so, dynamically her performances are anything
but flat. And that deserves praise.
If my assessment of this disc were dependent on Shannon Mercer's
singing alone, I would ask the Editor to label this disc Recording
of the Month. Unfortunately a number of things hold me back
from doing so.
First of all, the production is very sloppy. The booklet does
not offer us any lyrics; they can be downloaded as a pdf file
from the Analekta
site. However the words for several of the pieces are missing:
Dolce Maria, Regina celi and Su le piume de' venti
trionfator. The lyrics which are included are riddled with
errors, and Dov'io credea le mie speranze vere is printed
without an English translation. In addition they are printed
out of order, and you have to scroll up and down to find the
And then there is the issue of the scoring. "While most
of the pieces were probably accompanied by theorbo at the time,
the musicians on this recording decided to use a fuller continuo,
as implied by the inclusion of a bass line in the score",
the programme notes say. The performers wanted a more varied
and lively instrumentation. I ask: why? If the music is as good
as Francesca Caccini's, that is really unnecessary. In this
repertoire it is the vocal line which is completely dominant,
as Francesca's father Giulio never stopped reminding people.
The scoring of the basso continuo part sometimes has disastrous
results: in Lasciatemi qui solo the cello can be so loud
that it almost overpowers the voice. It is also stated by Luc
Beauséjour that the organ is used in sacred pieces. But it is
also used in Io mi distruggo: "I waste away, and
burn, nor do I find comfort for my pain, or peace, for a single
merciful glance cannot temper Love’s burning torch, nor can
I vent my pain with tears." What is sacred about that?
And whether the madrigal Dolce Maria is a kind of sacred
madrigal is anybody's guess, as the lyrics are not printed in
the pdf file, but here an organ is used as well.
Io veggio i campi verdeggiar fecondi is performed here
in an instrumental version for which I can see no reason. In
fact, if in Caccini's time such a piece was performed instrumentally
it is very likely that it would have been played with additional
passaggi, and that is more than just the addition of
some ornaments as is the case here. Ironically the lyrics of
this piece are included in the pdf file. Sylvain Bergeron plays
Quattro Canzoni di mio padre, a fantasy title for a piece
of his own making: a compilation of four arias by Giulio Caccini
and played on the guitar. It would have been nice if the titles
of these four pieces had been specified, but even so I don't
see the reasoning behind this undertaking.
I still recommend this disc, because Francesca Caccini's music
is excellent and poorly represented on disc. Moreover, Shannon
Mercer's singing is a delight to listen to and I am very pleased
with her performances. That makes it even more regrettable that
several aspects of this recording are highly questionable and
that the production is so careless.
Johan van Veen
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