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Aura Soave
Luzzasco LUZZASCHI (1545? - 1607)
Aure soave [3:25]
Sinfonia antica
Giovanni Giacomo GASTOLDI (1555-1609)
L'Ardito - L'innamorato [5:33]
Giovanni Girolamo KAPSBERGER (c1580-1651)
Toccata II Arpeggiata [2:54]
Stefano LANDI (1587-1639)
Augellin [4:03]
Ippolito TARTAGLINO (1539-1582)
Canzon sopra Susanna [3:11]
Giulio CACCINI (1551-1618)
Torna, deh torna [4:47]
Giovanni DE MACQUE (1548/50-1614)
Prima stravaganza [2:09]
Nasce la pena mia [6:36]

Amarilli mia bella [4:40]
Giovanni Girolamo KAPSBERGER

Toccata VI [3:19]
Barbara STROZZI (1619-1677)
L'Amante segreto [6:56]
Luigi ROSSI (1597/98-1653)
Passacaille del Seigr. Louigi [2:17]
Marco MARAZZOLI (1602/05-1662)
Sopra la Rosa [13:01]
Céline Scheen (soprano), Philippe Pierlot, Kaori Uemura, Rainer Zipperling, Romina Lischka (viola da gamba), Giovanna Pessi (harp)
rec. June 2012, Bra sur Lienne, Belgium DDD
Texts included, no translations
FLORA 2712 [62:20]

Every year a number of discs of Italian music from the early decades of the 17th century are released. That is understandable because this was a most exciting time which saw the birth of opera and the emergence of virtuosity in vocal and instrumental music. Add to that the introduction of new forms such as vocal monody and the instrumental sonata as well as experiments in the realm of harmony. One can understand that repertoire from this period has a strong appeal to performers and audiences alike. Considering how much music dates from that time it is a little disappointing that so often the same pieces are chosen for recordings and concerts.

The present disc also includes some well-known items, especially Caccini's Amarilli mia bella and Luigi Rossi's Passacaille. However, that is more than compensated for by the selection of lesser-known compositions, such as those by Gastoldi and De Macque.

What exactly was the thought behind the programme is impossible to say as this disc's booklet only includes the lyrics. One aspect is particularly notable: the playing of a consort of viols. Such an ensemble is mostly associated with the English renaissance, and one gets the impression that in the 17th century the viol consort had become extinct almost everywhere else. That is not the case. At the imperial court in Vienna this type of ensemble was still greatly appreciated as late as around 1700. In Italy, music for viol consort was written during the first part of the 17th century. Let us not forget that Claudio Monteverdi's first important job was that of a gambist at the court in Mantua. It has been suggested that the polyphonic version of his famous Lamento d'Arianna was intended for performance with a solo voice and a consort of viols. This disc includes two items which specifically indicate a performance with viols: Caccini's Torna, deh torna has the addition of the concerto di viole del Filippo, and Sopra la Rosa by Marazzoli voce sola con le viole.

The disc begins with a piece by Luzzasco Luzzaschi, who was one of the last representatives of the stile antico. He was an important composer of madrigals which are all scored for vocal ensemble. However, at the court in Ferrara where he worked all his life, he often performed his madrigals with the Concerto delle Dame, three virtuosic lady singers who were the talk of the time. To that end he arranged madrigals for one to three voices and basso continuo; some of them were published in 1601. His Aura soave is performed this way here, and I assume that it is taken from this collection. Céline Scheen probably also uses the ornaments which are included in that same source.

Giovanni Giacomo Gastoldi is also a representative of the old style. He was most famous for his light-hearted vocal music, especially his balletti. Two of them are included here, sung by Céline Scheen with the viol consort. In Germany the melody of L'innamorato was adapted to the text of the hymn In dir ist Freude. Even older and even lesser-known is Ippolito Tartaglino who, according to New Grove, composed only vocal music. However, there is mention of two canzonas of a certain Ippolito and this is thought to refer to the same Tartaglino. One of these could be the Canzon sopra Susanna played here.

Caccini's Amarilli mia bella is an evergreen, but if one listens to the performance by Céline Scheen and Giovanna Pessi one hardly recognizes it. Ms Scheen adds quite a lot of ornaments and I would like to know whether these are the product of her own invention or are taken from a source from Caccini's time. This kind of interpretation is perfectly legitimate as such, although I tend to think that this amount of ornamentation is a bit too much of a good thing.

Giovanni de Macque is a particularly interesting composer. He was from Naples and was for some time employed by the Gesualdo household. Through his keyboard music he influenced Frescobaldi. Listening to the quirky harmonic progressions in his Prima Stravaganza one is immediately reminded of Gesualdo's madrigals. Marco Marazzoli and Barbara Strozzi don't experiment with harmony that way, but are very aware of the importance of the text and of expressing its affetti, one of the main aspects of the aethetics of the stile nuovo. Strozzi's cantata ist the most 'modern' piece in the programme: with its division in arias and recitativic episodes it points to the future where the sequence of recitatives and arias would become the standard in vocal music.

The harp was an important instrument in the 17th century in Italy. It was mainly used as a basso continuo instrument in opera. Music for harp solo was composed and printed, but harpists mainly played music for keyboard or theorbo. Some composers specifically indicated that their music could be played on either instrument, for instance Ascanio Mayone and Giovanni Maria Trabaci, both pupils of De Macque. Kapsberger was the most brilliant theorbo player of his time and moved in the highest circles in Rome. Although he did not indicate that his theorbo pieces could be played on the harp, there is no objection to doing so as is the case here. The two Kapsberger pieces work very well on the harp.

I have reviewed discs of the Flora label before, and musically all of them were outstanding. That goes for this disc as well. Céline Scheen has the perfect voice for this repertoire, and also the right temperament. She uses her impressive vocal technique in the service of the expression of the music's emotional content. The playing of the instruments is of the same standard. The quality of the performances should go along with the quality of the production, but the lack of documentation in the booklet is very regrettable. The lyrics are included, but without translations. The booklet includes a reference to the label's website where translations should be available. I have visited it but have found no translations.

Let this not put you off. This is a most exciting disc and a model of sensitive music making.

Johan van Veen