Il Concerto delle Viole Barberini
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643)
Messa della Domenica:
Toccata avanti la Messa [1:09]
Canzon dopo l'Epistola [2:15]
Messa dello Apostoli:
Toccata avanti la Messa [1:42]
Messa della Domenica:
Recercar dopo il Credo [1:53]
Toccata cromatica per l'Elevatione [3:31]
Domenico MAZZOCCHI (1592-1665)
Oh se poteste mai, luci adorate* [5:18]
Chiudesti i lumi, Armida [2:17]
Giovanni Pierluigi DA PALESTRINA (c1525-1594)
Ricercar del primo tono a 4 [2:04]
Ricercar del quarto tono a 4 [2:18]
Cherubino WAESICH (fl 1630)
Canzona XVI a 5 [3:09]
Canzona III a 5 [3:02]
Ardo per voi, mia vita (Madrigale a sei concertato con l'istromenti)* [2:50]
Canzona V a 5 [3:43]
Giovanni Girolamo KAPSBERGER (c1580-1651)
Ballo IV [4:42]
Canzona a 4 sopra la Romanesca [2:48]
Canzona a 5 sopra Rugier [1:59]
Cherubino WAESICH
Canzon I a 5 [3:26]
Canzona XII a 5 [4:09]
O rubella amor (Madrigale a sei concertato con l'istromenti)* [2:46]
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Sonata in b minor (K 87) [4:28]
Ensemble Mare Nostrum, Vox Luminis*/Andrea De Carlo
rec. January 2011, Église Saint-Jean l'Évangeliste, Beufays, Belgium. DDD
Texts and translations included
RICERCAR RIC 320 [59:33]
Music for a consort of viols is mostly associated with England. That was already the case in the early 17th century. In 1639 the French cleric Abbé Maugars published a book on the music scene in Italy. When he visited Rome he was suprised by the almost complete absence of gambists, and he emphasized the strong contrast with England, which he had visited shortly before. As late as the the early 18th century the viola da gamba was still linked with England. When Vivaldi composed parts for gambas in some of his works he referred to them as viole all'inglese.
This disc sheds light on an aspect of Italian music of the early 17th century which is largely ignored. Despite Maugars' observations the viola da gamba was played in Rome. The title of this disc refers to Cardinal Francesco Barberini, a nephew of Pope Urban VIII. In his capacity as Papal secretary he undertook various diplomatic missions to foreign countries. The presence of an ensemble of gambas in his entourage is well documented. The cardinal's maestro di cappella, Virginio Mazzocchi, purchased several collections of music which were suitable to be played by a consort of viols. His brother Domenico dedicated a collection of madrigals to the Cardinal, and he specifically refers to the viol consort. He included parts for viols, but left it to the taste of the performers to sing the madrigals a cappella or with instruments. In this recording Oh se poteste mai is performed with voices and instruments, whereas Chiudeste i lumi, Armida is performed instrumentally.
Francesco Barberini wasn't the only aristocrat in Rome who had a viol consort. His brother Antonio, also a Cardinal, owned an ensemble of six viols himself. Some composers used viols in their vocal works, such as Marco Marazzoli. An interesting figure is Cherubino Waesich, probably of Flemish or German origin. He published the only collection of music for viols which has survived from this time in Rome, the Canzoni a cinque of 1632. It includes 16 canzonas for viols and two madrigals for voices with a consort of viols. Their technical level indicates that they were intended for professional players. In the two madrigals the gambas don't just play colla voce, but have independent parts and play sometimes without the voices in the ritornelli.
Waesich added to the title of his collection da sonarsi con le viole da gamba, indicating that these pieces were specifically intended for a consort of viols. The other music on this disc was either written for organ or for an instrumental ensemble without further specification. The former is the case with the five pieces from the collection Fiori Musicali by Girolamo Frescobaldi which open this disc. The viol consort is best suited to play polyphonic music in which all parts are treated equally. That explains that it played only a marginal role in the early 17th century in Italy, with its prominence of virtuosic music in the monodic style. In keyboard music counterpoint still played a major role, and that is certainly the case with Frescobaldi's oeuvre. These five organ pieces, intended for the liturgy and taken from two of Frescobaldi's organ masses, work pretty well in a performance with a viol consort. The two ricercares by Palestrina are also intended for the organ. They are two of eight ricercares in the various modes, the only instrumental music from Palestrina's pen.
The two canzonas by Frescobaldi and the Ballo IV by Kapsberger are written for instruments the choice of which is left to the performer. The former's canzonas are from a collection which appeared in Rome in 1628. Both are based on a basso ostinato, a practice which was very popular at the time. Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, of German birth, was the most celebrated theorbo player of his time and moved among the highest circles in Rome. He almost exclusively composed music for his own instrument. Only two collections of instrumental pieces in four parts are known from him. The Ballo IV is from the collection Libro primo di Balli, Gagliarde et Correnti of 1615. This ballo comprises four movements: Uscita, Ballo, Gagliarda and Corrente

As a kind of encore the disc ends with a keyboard sonata by Domenico Scarlatti. It has nothing to do with the viol consort of Francesco Barberini. In Scarlatti's time the viol consort had sunk into oblivion. The performers just want to show that some keyboard music, because of its polyphonic character, is suitable for a consort of viols to play. We are inclined to think that Scarlatti's sonatas are virtuosic showpieces, and many of them are. However his corpus of keyboard music also contains some more introverted sonatas which are sometimes played at the organ. These can also be played by an instrumental ensemble. The Sonata in b minor (K 87) is a wonderful example. It has no tempo indication but its character suggests an andante, and that is how it is played here. It is a beautuful ending of an intensely interesting disc.
I assume that the music by Waesich and probably also the pieces by Mazzocchi have been recorded here for the very first time. The interest lies not only in their scoring but also in the quality of the music. Mazzocchi was one of the main composers of his time in Rome. Recently I reviewed his opera La Catena d'Adone and the pieces on this disc confirm his stature. The music of Waesich - who is not mentioned in New Grove - is also of high quality and I would like to hear more from him. The playing of the Ensemble Mare Nostrum is superb throughout. It produces a beautiful and warm sound, with great transparency. The perfect phrasing and articulation and the subtle dynamic shading make this music really breathe. Vox Luminis sing only three items, and they do so in a very expressive manner. The blending of the voices and the viols is immaculate.
In short, a superb recording.
Johan van Veen
A superb recording.