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Canta la Serenissima - Music from 17th century Venice
See track listing below review
Argo (Kajsa Dahlbäck (soprano), Tuomo Suni, Dora Asterstad (violin), Heidi Peltoniemi (cello), Jani Sunnarborg (dulcian), Anna-Maaria Oramo (harpsichord))
rec. May and September 2012, St Catherine's Church, Karjaa, Finland. DDD
Texts included; only Finnish translation
ALBA ABCD 360 [65:58]

Italian music from the first half of the 17th century is often performed and recorded. That is not surprising: the emancipation of instruments, especially the violin, resulted in a technically demanding repertoire of instrumental music. Moreover, the aesthetic ideals fundamentally changed. The solo voice was given a central role and the singer was expected to convey the affetti which were expressed in a text and which were depicted by the music. There is much to choose from as the repertoire of vocal and instrumental music is huge. Several composers are particularly well represented on disc: Monteverdi with vocal music, Frescobaldi with keyboard works and the likes of Marini and Castello with instrumental music. From this perspective the programme of the present disc is slightly disappointing in that it includes various pieces which are well-known, especially the two items by Monteverdi. On the other hand, we do get a vocal composition by Riccio who is mainly known for his instrumental music. Natale Monferrato is a composer who is hardly known at all. Maybe this mixture of the well-known and the little-known will make this disc more attractive for potential purchasers than a disc with only unknown repertoire.
 
This repertoire is not only often technically challenging. The emotional and dramatic aspects are even harder to realize as many recordings show. In fact, there are not that many that fully realise these features. This disc is no exception, I'm afraid. The instrumentalists do a fine job: they have mastered their instruments and have grasped this particular style quite well. However, their performances are not very exciting - dull even. The main problem is that the many contrasts within single pieces are not fully explored. Dynamically the playing is rather flat and the tempi are often too moderate. This music is much more theatrical and dramatic than these performances suggest. After all, this was also the time that saw the birth of opera. In fact, almost all Italian music of this time is fundamentally theatrical.
 
That comes to the fore even more strongly in vocal works, and that includes sacred music. The pieces recorded here are all for one voice with basso continuo, sometimes with additional instruments. In every case the text is most important and its emotional content should be communicated. Kajsa Dahlbäck has a very nice voice which is perfectly suited to this repertoire. She sings the sacred concertos quite well but her performances are short on emotion. Monteverdi's Confitebor primo, a setting of Psalm 110 (111), is not very interesting and the general tempo is too slow.
 
Several pieces reflect the veneration of the Virgin Mary. That was especially important in the first half of the 17th century which saw the emergence of the Counter-Reformation. This disc is devoted to music from Venice, and here the Marian cult was even more important as Mary was the city's patron saint. These factors account for such music being highly emotional. The stile nuovo, with its emphasis on affetti, was the perfect vehicle for the expression of the adoration of the Virgin. This disc includes several examples, such as the Marian antiphons Alma redemptoris mater (Monferrato) and Ave Regina coelorum (Riccio), but also Gaudeamus omnes by Merula and especially O quam speciosa by Grandi. The emotional character of these pieces doesn't quite come off. Grandi's motet is especially disappointing. A phrase like "O Maria dulcis rosa" almost begs for the use of the messa di voce, but there is little dynamic shading here. The whole piece is full of emotional moments, but they are hardly moticeable in this performance. Ms Dahlbäck does too little with "suspirantis" in Grandi's Jesu mi dulcissime, and the joyful character of Merula's Gaudeamus omnes doesn't fully come off. Here she makes an error by singing "beata Maria" instead of the (correct) "beatae Mariae". In addition more rhythmical liberties should have been taken in sacred concertos such as this.
 
On balance, while the programme may include several little-known pieces, the performances, by and large, fail to do them real justice. The emotional and dramatic character of this repertoire is barely conveyed. On balance, this disc errs on the dull side.
 
The booklet includes liner-notes in English. It is therefore incomprehensible that the lyrics are only translated into Finnish.
 
Johan van Veen
http://www.musica-dei-donum.org
https://twitter.com/johanvanveen

Track Listing
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)

Confitebor primo [7:46]
Dario CASTELLO (c.1590-c1658)
Undecima sonata a due violini e fagotto [6:31]
Alessandro GRANDI (1586-1630)
Jesu mi dulcissime [4:07]
Biagio MARINI (1594-1663)
La Foscarina [4:17]
Claudio MONTEVERDI
Laudate Dominum [3:57]
Giovanni PICCHI (1572-1643)
Pass'e mezzo [5:58]
Alessandro GRANDI
O quam speciosa [8:13]
Dario CASTELLO
Sonata prima a soprano solo [4:35]
Tarquinio MERULA (1594-1665)
Gaudeamus omnes [2:57]
Biagio MARINI
Sonata a violino o cornetto e basso [4:38]
Natale MONFERRATO (1603-1685)
Alma redemptoris mater [4:29]
Claudio MERULO (1533-1604)
La Cortese [4:25]
Giovanni Battista RICCIO (fl. 1609-1621)
Ave regina coelorum [3:04]


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