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Francesca CACCINI (1587 - 1641)
Maria, dolce Maria - Sacred and secular songs
Ch'Amor sia nudo [3:23]
Io veggio i campi [2:51]
O che nuovo stupor [7:26]
Che t'ho fatt'io [3:38]
Ciaccona [4:33]
Dov'io credea [3:18]
O chiome belle [2:37]
Maria, dolce Maria [2:40]
Romanesca [5:03]
Non so se quel sorriso [3:09]
Dispiegate, guance amate [4:06]
Se muove a giurar fede [4:56]
Lasciatemi qui solo [5:43]
S'io me'n vo [3:32]
O vive rose [4:42]
Chi desia di saper [2:46]
Elena Cecchi Fedi (soprano)
Cappella di Santa Maria degli Angiolini (Luigi Cozzolino (violin), Francesco Tomei (viola da gamba), Paolo Maccartini (theorbo, percussion), Gian Luca Lastraioli (theorbo, cittern, guitar), Andrea Benucci (guitar), Alfonso Fedi (harpsichord))/Gian Luca Lastraioli
rec. January 2012, Conservatorio di Santa Maria degli Angeli, Florence, Italy. DDD
Texts included, no translations

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 di saper. 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 rose 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 solo 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 and Romancesca. 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