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Luigi ROSSI (1597-1653)
Passacaglia del Seigneur Louigi [2:49]
Lamento d'Elena invecchiata (Cadute erano al fine)*/**
Spargete sospiri [2:38]
Lamento d'Artemisia (Già celebrato havea la Regina di
Pianto della Maddalena (Pender non prima vide sopra vil
Sopra la lascita di Nostro Signore (Perchè dolce Bambino)*
Domenico MAZZOCCHI (1592-1665)
Dovremo piangere la passione di Nostro Signore (Piangete
occhi, piangete)*/** [7:42]
Peccantem me quotidie [2:40]
Oratorio per la Settimana Santa (conclusion)*/** [7:01]
Atalante (Nadine Balbeisi (soprano)*, Theodora Baka (mezzo)**, Paulina
van Laarhoven, Annalisa Pappano, Nora Roll (viola da gamba), Erin
Headley (viola da gamba, lirone), Siobhán Armstrong (arpa doppia),
Elizabeth Kenny, Andrew Maginley (chitarrone))/Erin Headley
rec. 27-30 November 2010, St George's, Chesterton, Cambs, UK. DDD
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI 6152 [67:17]
As its title indicates this disc is entirely devoted to laments.
This was a popular genre in the 17th century. Some laments belong
to the most famous pieces, like the Lamento d'Arianna
by Monteverdi - the only surviving fragment from his lost opera.
Then there’s the lament of Dido at the end of Purcell's opera
Dido and Aeneas. Various terms were used to describe
them: lamento, pianto or lacrime ("tears").
This disc could also bear the title "Piangete occhi, piangete"
- Weep, eyes, weep! - because that phrase returns in various
All these compositions were written by composers who worked
in Rome, and in particular in the service of members of the
Barberini family, one of the most wealthy in Italy. They were
a Tuscan dynasty of wool merchants who also played a role in
the church. When Maffeo Barberini was elected pope in 1623 -
under the name of Urban VIII - he made two of his nephews cardinal,
whereas a third became Prince of Palestrina and commander of
the Papal army. Together they acted as patrons of the arts in
Rome, surrounding themselves with some of the best poets, artists
and musicians. Among the most celebated musician-composers in
their service were Girolamo Frescobaldi, the chitarrone virtuoso
Johann Hieronymus Kapsberger and Stefano Landi, castrato and
player of the harp and the guitar. The main composers on this
disc, Luigi Rossi and Marco Marazzoli, were also singers and
Marazzoli was at the service of Cardinal Antonio Barberini.
The largest part of his oeuvre - oratorios, operas and cantatas
- was written for the Barberinis. The same Cardinal was also
the patron of Luigi Rossi, one of Rome's main composers. He
has become especially famous for his opera Orfeo which
was written for performance at the French court. This was at
the request of Cardinal Jules Mazarin, who was of Italian birth
and belonged to the Barberini network. The disc opens with a
Passacaglia, an independent instrumental piece which
may have been written while Rossi was in France.
The laments were not just written for musical entertainment.
They also had a spiritual meaning, even those with secular content.
Despite their love of splendour and their wish to display affluence,
the Barberinis were also staunch supporters of the Counter-Reformation.
And music was an important instrument by which to spread the
ideals of this movement. The fact that worldly subjects were
part of it only confirms that in this time there was no strict
division between sacred and secular. A good example is the second
item, Marazzoli's Lamento d'Elena invecchiata, the lament
of the aged Helen, meaning Helen of Troy. It begins with a passage
for a testo, a narrator. Oratorios, for instance those
of Giacomo Carissimi (another Roman composer) often also had
a role for a testo, telling parts of the story and introducing
the characters - very much like the Evangelist in Bach's Passions.
This lament is the musical counterpart of paintings with a vanitas
subject which were also used for the promotion of ethical values.
In this case the moral lesson is the vanity of beauty. The narrator
concludes: "And so she [Helen] showed us through the fragile
mirror, how fragile is a beautiful face".
Another secular piece is the Lamento d'Artemisia, also
by Marazzoli. The title figure was Artemisia II, who after the
death of her husband Mausolus ruled Caria from 353 to 351 B.C.
She laments the death of Mausolus, and several historical figures
are mentioned. This is, according to the liner-notes, one of
the reasons this repertoire is not often performed. There are
many references to figures and situations which are not familiar
to modern audiences. That was different at the time this music
was written, as the audiences consisted of aristocrats and clergymen
who were very well educated.
The longest piece is of a sacred nature. Luigi Rossi's Pianto
della Maddalena is about Mary Magdalene who threw herself
at the feet of the cross and "in sobs and sighs and with
these bitter notes, gave voice to her sufferings". Here
we not only find sadness and grief, but also passages of utter
despair and explosions of anger against heaven and hell. That
lends it a great amount of realism from a psychological point
of view. It also makes it a real tour de force for any
interpreter. The Pianto della Maddalena is a masterpiece,
and it gets a highly impressive and often moving performance
by Nadine Balbeisi, who brings out every nuance of the text.
No less impressive is Theodora Baka in the lament of Artemisia
and in the role of Helen of Troy in Marazzoli's lament. Her
voice isn't that much different from Ms Balbeisi's, but has
some darker streaks which are effectively used. The two singers
are an excellent match in the duet in the Lamento d'Elena
invecchiata and in Dovremo piangere la passione di Nostro
Signore - Let us weep for the passion of Our Lord. It was
composed by Domenico Mazzocchi, another who enjoyed the protection
of the Barberini family. The piece consists of six stanzas,
the first and last for two voices. The programme ends with the
closing episode from Luigi Rossi's Oratorio per la Settimana
Santa, an oratorio for Holy Week. This is a lament by Mary
which ends with the words: "Eyes, weep, yeah weep for evermore!".
Then follows a "madrigale ultimo" for the two voices
which takes up the last line of Mary: "Weep, eyes, weep!
Sorrows, torments, increase".
An important aspect of this disc is the use of the various instruments.
It is the first CD from Atalante, which Erin Headley founded
a couple of years ago with the explicit aim of performing and
recording music written in Rome in the 17th century. The name
is derived from Atalante Migliorotti, friend and pupil of Leonardo
da Vinci. More importantly, he was the inventor of the lirone.
Ms Headley is a latter-day pioneer of this instrument and was
the first to commission the building of a facsimile of the instrument
which played such an important role in Italian music of the
17th century. With its dark sound it was especially suited to
laments, and this disc is all the proof that could be needed.
Also interesting is the frequent use of a harp in the basso
continuo. This is particularly appropriate as both Rossi and
Marazzoli played this instrument. Lastly, in several items we
hear a consort of viols. That is not something one associates
with Italian music of the 17th century, but such an ensemble
was more widely used than is often thought. Whether consort
players still transcribed vocal pieces in the 17th century as
they did in the 16th I am not sure. Two examples of such transcriptions
are included here: Spargete sospiri and Peccantem
me quotidie, both by Luigi Rossi.
This is one of the best recordings I have heard all year. The
repertoire is exciting, and so are the performances. It is thanks
to grants from the Arts and Humanities Research Council of Great
Britain that this programme could be recorded. There is more
to come. I can hardly wait.
Johan van Veen