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Chansons, Madrigali and Villanelle
see track listing below review
Romanesque/Philippe Malfeyt
rec. June 1994, Church of Saint-Apollinaire à Bolland
RICERCAR RIC 331 [65.18]

If I may I’d like to give you what one might almost call a ‘Jesse’ tree of composers so that the importance of the composer under the microscope can truly be seen.
We begin with Jean Mouton (1459-1522) who was possibly a pupil of Josquin who in turn had been a pupil of Ockeghem. Then comes Adrian Willaert who worked at St. Marks, Venice from 1527 to the end of his life and helped to establish the tradition called ‘cori spezzati’. Then there are Andrea Gabrieli, Giovanni Gabrieli, Claudio Monteverdi and Heinrich Schutz, all teacher/composers. We could arguably follow on with J.S. Bach, thinking for instance of the opening double chorus number of the St. Matthew Passion. Then we move onwards to his sons and other relations. Musical history has a way of connecting us all. In addition, as you can see above, many of his contemporaries thought highly enough of Willaert to make arrangements of and write divisions upon many of his songs.
The joy of this disc is its variety. It isn’t just Willaert’s St. Mark’s music that is important - but little known. Oddly enough Willaert’s secular pieces are the most often heard in programmes and in madrigal anthology collections. For instance two chansons feature in the Oxford Book of French Chansons and three in the Italian volume. It’s quite clear from Piet Stryckers useful and interesting booklet notes that we should regard Willaert as a very significant and perhaps undervalued figure.
Jerome Roche in his famous book ‘The Madrigal’ (London’s Hutchinson University Library, 1972) devotes four pages to Willaert, reminding us that his four-part madrigals “belong to the earliest decade of madrigal publication”. Here is a composer striving to write music to match the beauty and seriousness of Petrarchan poetry. Such an approach can be heard in Qual dolcezza giamai. It should also be remembered that Willaert is probably better known for his villanelles. These are a lighter form often connected with special entertainments. An example is O bene mio famm’uno favore, heard here in an arrangement by the Spanish composer, Pisador. This is a somewhat polite performance of a distinctly suggestive poem. In Vecchie letrose the whole group let their hair down as they also do for the last track Sempre mi ride sta and really capture a mood of suitable abandonment.
Another form represented here is the canzone - not the instrumental form associated with a later period. Zoia zentil is an example that reverts to a more serious genre. It may seem odd that a confirmed churchman of masses and motets should spend so much energy on populist and often quite lewd music for the outside world. That said, there is much in the ways that the voice parts are deployed which enables us to see connections between Willaert’s sacred and secular worlds.
Romanesque in this 1994 recording consisted of six instrumentalists and one singer, the sweet toned Katelijne Van Laethem. Their approach is to move between songs and instrumental pieces. They put Willaert in the context of his contemporaries. In some cases, like Dessus le Marché d’Arras, we get the original and straight afterwards an instrumental variant of it - in this instance by the composer himself. To demonstrate the group’s approach lets take the example of Chi la dira - in conventional French Qui la dira, which is in the Oxford Book mentioned above. This is in five parts with the lower four played by recorder and three viols; Van Laethem is on the top part - the superius. This is polyphonic music. There is almost no word-painting and as a madrigal all parts are texted and are therefore of equal importance. No matter how you look at it, if only the top part is vocal and texted we, in modern times hear it as a tune with accompaniment. This was not the composer’s intention, I’m sure. In addition the tessitura of this part is as low as the A below middle C and then rises an 11th. It’s quite challenging for a singer who is credited as a soprano to be consistent across this full range or at least successfully to achieve a balance. However a plus side to this is that Van Laethem can gently ornament her line without disrupting another voice. There is some feeling that Willaert, more than any of his contemporaries, often thought vertically rather than horizontally. I do feel that this is a disc, no matter how much I enjoyed it, for which I so wish that at least one other singer, preferably a man, had been used - not least to offer a change of colour and timbre.
Other instruments employed include the lute and harp. Immediately after the above song we are treated to Valente’s lovely version of it with divisions. We are also given purely instrumental pieces such as A la fontaine by Giovanni Bassano in which Romanesque employ recorder, harp and chitarrone. By the way, Bassano may well have been the father of the dark lady of the sonnets. A cittern is used in the last track, Sempre mi ride. Sometime percussion appear as in Cingari simo.
You will notice that some pieces are French and some Italian. Willaert was from the Low Countries and has been much associated with Bruges. Chansons were published by the hundred in the 1520s and 1530s by such figures as Sermisy, Passereau even Gombert and Josquin. After his appointment in Venice it was the Italian madrigal of Arcadelt and Costanzo Festa that were Willaert’s immediate models. He was able to develop theform into something sometimes more serious and sometimes, especially in the villanelle, memorably melodic.
There is some really sensitive playing from all throughout this disc. I enjoyed very much the lovely dynamic shading and persuasive phrasing of Sophie Watillon in Bonizzi’s Joyssance on the viola bastarda which is not a separate instrument so much as one which allows and has been adapted to a style of virtuosity which takes a polyphonic piece and enables it to be presented monophonically.
All texts are provided and the recording is spacious and clear.

Gary Higginson

Track Listing
Adrian WILLAERT (c.1490-1562)
Qual dolcezza giamai [4:27]; Zoia zentil [1:48]; Dessus le marché d'Arras [1:06]; Allons, allons gay [2:52]; Quante volte diss'io [3:14]; Vecchie letrose, non valete niente [1:39]; Chi la dira [2:11]; Chi la dira disminuita [2:39]; E se per gelosia [1:40]; Un Giorno mi pregò [1:51]; Cingari simo [2:12]; Joyssance vous donneray [2:33]; Arousez vo violette [1:23]; Ricercar 10 [3:39]; Occhio non fu gamai [2:39]; Sempre mi ride sta [2:15]
Qual dolcezza giamai [4.28]; Zoia zentil [1.48]; Allons, allons gay [2.52];
Quante volte dissio [3.14]; Vecchie letrose, nonvalete niente [1.39]; Chi la dira [2.12]; E se per gelosia [1.40]; Cingari simo [2.12]; Joyssance vous donneray [2.34]
Pierre ATTAIGNANT (c.1494- 1562) Dessus le marché d'Arras [1:19]
Giovanni TERZI (fl.c.1590 ) Canzon Allez mi faut di Adriano [4:51]
Antonio de CABEZON (c.1500-1566) Tiento 4 sobre Qui la dira [2:33]
Giovanni BASSANO (1558-1617) A la Fontana [4:54]
Giulio AABONDANTE (fl.1580)/Adrian WILLAERT O quando a quando havea [5:24]
Vincenzo BONIZZI (d.c.1630) Joyssance [5:23]
Diego PISADOR (c.1509-1557)/Adrian WILLAERT O bene mio famm'uno favore [2:33]
Antonio VALENTE (fl.1565-1580) Chi la dir disminuita [2.39]