Being the child of a famous father can be quite
a burden, in particular when father and child have the same occupation.
The Bach sons knew all about it. It can also be a blessing, though.
That was certainly the case with the two most famous female composers
of 17th-century Italy, Barbara Strozzi and Francesca Caccini. The latter
was the daughter of Giulio Caccini who with his compositions and in
his writings expressed a new approach to music in which the text was
at the centre and should be depicted in the music. Francesca received
an outstanding education, including poetry and music. She wrote poems
in Italian and Latin and was able to sing and to play various instruments,
among them the harpsichord and the guitar.
She was also educated in composition which resulted in her writing operas;
she was responsible for the first opera in history from the pen of a
woman. Unfortunately it appears that only one specimen of this part
of her oeuvre has been preserved. Otherwise just one collection of music
has come down to us, printed in 1618 and including 32 solo pieces and
four duets for soprano and bass, all with basso continuo. Some have
a spiritual content, others are secular. The forms are different: there
are strophic pieces but also pure monodies, often in various parts,
in which the performer has to follow the rhythm of the text. As Francesca
regularly performed as a singer it seems likely that she wrote these
pieces for her own performances in the first place. She may have accompanied
herself at the keyboard, the harp or the guitar. The choice of the basso
continuo instrument(s) is not indicated, except in a small number of
pieces with the addition "canzonetta per cantare sopra la chitarra spagnola".
Two of them are on this disc: Ch'Amor sia nudo
and Chi desia
. It is rather odd that in both pieces other instruments
also participate in the basso continuo.
In these performances the interpreters take a considerable amount of
freedom anyway. It is not made clear on which historical sources these
practices are based. Among them is the playing of ritornellos, often
with participation of the violin and sometimes also percussion. Only
in one piece performed here does the score include a ritornello with
the indication that this could be repeated after every stanza (O
che nuovo stupor
). There is no material for a ritornello in Se
muove a giurar fede
, but the performance starts with an instrumental
introduction which lasts almost two minutes. At some points the violin
even plays colla parte
with the voice, again something which
is not required in the score.
Another feature raises questions: S'io me'n vo
and O vive
are both duets for soprano and bass. The low voice is probably
played by the viola da gamba, but that is hard to say, even if one follows
the music from the score. That is an indication that this 'solution'
is rather unsatisfying.
Although I would have liked the artists to stick to the score, there
is much to admire here. Elena Cecchi Fedi delivers outstanding performances
of the vocal parts. She deals impressively with the many melismatic
passages and the ornamentation which is required. She makes use of the
technique of the messa di voce
without exaggeration, and pays
much attention to the text. Whether she succeeds in expressing the words
is hard to say as the booklet includes the lyrics but omits English
translations. One of the most expressive pieces is Lasciatemi qui
which is in a truly monodic style; Ms Fedi observes the rhythmic
freedom which this piece needs. The instrumentalists play well; they
are on their own in the two instrumental pieces, Ciaccona
. Francesca Caccini didn't compose any instrumental
works, therefore these are probably instrumental versions of vocal items.
The booklet doesn't give any information about this issue, and I have
not been able to identify them.
Apart from the liberties in the interpretation the lack of information
about the music and performance practice as well as the omission of
translations are serious minuses. It should not however dissuade you
from investigating it. In 2010 I reviewed
another disc with pieces by Francesca Caccini. Some pieces appear on
both discs, but fortunately about half of the programme is different.
If you like this kind of music, there are good reasons to add this disc
to your collection.
Johan van Veen