The lamento was a popular genre in the 17th century. Many pieces of this kind were written by composers from Italy, including the likes of Monteverdi, Carissimi and Cavalli. The latter often included a lamento in his operas. The genre was also embraced in other countries, although it often took a different form. One can think here of the lamentos in German sacred music and of the tombeau
in France. However, the Italian laments are special in that they are of a strongly operatic nature. For the most part it is a specific character who expresses sadness or anger about his or her own fate.
This disc includes some of the most famous specimens of the genre. It is a bit disappointing that the programme doesn't include a single piece which has not been recorded before. However, that is not entirely the artists' fault as some of these pieces have appeared on CD not long ago and this disc was recorded in 2010 and released only recently. It remains a mystery to me why recordings by such established artists as Romina Basso, who regularly participates in baroque opera performances and recordings, remain so long on the shelf.
The programme opens with a toccata by Johannes Hieronymus (or Giovanni Girolamo) Kapsberger, a theorbo virtuoso of German birth. It is a piece for theorbo, but here this instrument is joined first by the viola da gamba and later by the organ. It is used as a prelude to the Lamento della regina di Svezia
by Luigi Rossi. It recounts the moment a breathless messenger informed the Queen of Sweden, Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg, of the tragic death of her husband, King Gustavus II Adolphus. The King was killed in battle on the fields of Lützen in Germany in November 1632, during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). It is ironic that this piece in remembrance of the death of a staunch defender of the Protestant cause was written for the chief minister of France, Cardinal Mazarin.
Giacomo Carissimi is best-known for his oratorios, but also composed a large corpus of secular cantatas. One of his most famous pieces is the Lamento in morte di Maria Stuarda
which refers to the death of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, in 1587 - not to be confused with the Mary Stuart who has the nickname 'Bloody Mary'. Since 1655 Carissimi was maestro di cappella
of Queen Christina of Sweden - daughter of the above-mentioned King Gustavus II Adolphus - who had settled in Rome after her conversion to Catholicism. It seems likely that Carissimi wrote this lament for her, and there can be little doubt that Christina felt strong affinity with Mary Stuart, the Catholic queen who was beheaded under Protestant rule.
The most famous lamento in history is the Lamento d'Arianna
, the only extant part of Monteverdi's opera. It was already famous in his own time, and he published it separately for solo voice and basso continuo in 1623. Before that he arranged it as a five-part madrigal which was included in the sixth book of 1614. He later exploited its fame by creating a sacred version, the Pianto della Madonna
, which is part of the collection Selva morale e spirituale
of 1640/41. It is preceded here by a keyboard piece by Frescobaldi, again performed with various instruments, as a kind of prelude.
Barbara Strozzi is a famous name, first and foremost because she was one of the very few female composers of her time. However, it is also the quality of her output that attracts performers. She is very well represented on disc, and Lagrime mie
belongs to her better-known compositions. The protagonist is not specifically named. He addresses his own tears: "My tears, why do you hold back? Why do you not give vent to the cruel sorrow that stifles my breath and oppresses my heart?" He then reveals the name of his beloved: Lydia, and the reason that they are not together: she "is imprisoned by her father's severity".
Francesco Provenzale is of a later generation, and his music is clearly rooted in the Neapolitan tradition, whereas the other three composers worked mainly in Venice and Rome respectively. Squarciato appena havea
is attributed to him, but its authenticity is not established. It is also not known why it was written. It is a scena
which parodies Rossi's lamento. Rossi's text is not literally quoted, but the piece follows its story, and when someone is quoted we hear a popular tarantella with guitar accompaniment. It was recorded a couple of years ago by Anne Sophie von Otter and she not only took the role of the narrator, but also of the various personalities. Things are approached differently here: these quotations are sung by three other singers. The fact that the piece closes with a chorus could be an indication that this was intended by the composer but the booklet doesn't mention the scoring.
Even if the performers are right in using various singers they go a little over the top in their interpretations. That goes for the entire recording. In particular the instruments are often too busy and too loud, and threaten to distract attention from the singer. I don't understand why the lamento by Barbara Strozzi is preceded by an improvisation on the viola da gamba, which sounds like something from an eastern culture. Romina Basso is a seasoned interpreter of early vocal music, and especially successful in opera. She masters the art of recitar cantando
which is required here. She takes some passages with considerable speed, reflecting the strong emotions the protagonist wants to express. However, in such passages her diction is less clear than it should be and that makes the text sometimes hard to understand. Her characteristic guttural 'r' is not nice to hear, although it seems not to bother most people. Also they will probably have little problem with her incessant vibrato but it seriously diminishes my appreciation of her efforts. In the end I find her interpretations less expressive than some others I have heard, often by less reputed singers.
This repertoire is irresistible but I can't really warm to these performances.
Johan van Veen