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La Pellegrina: Intermedii, 1589
Dorothée Leclair, Monika Mauch (sopranos)
Pascal Bertin (alto)
Stephan van Dyck, Jean-François Novelli (tenors)
Antoni Fajardo (bass)
Capriccio Stravagante Renaissance Orchestra, Collegium Vocale Gent/Skip Sempé
rec. live, May 2007, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels. DDD
Reviewed as stream from Qobuz (No booklet with streamed or download version)
PARADIZO PA0004 [68:54]

The lavish Intermedii performed at a Medici marriage in 1589 are often seen as the immediate fore-runners of opera. They are also the apogee of a tradition which had been developing during the sixteenth century, of dramatic madrigals performed as interludes at Medici ceremonies. Thus the 1589 collection, performed in the interludes of the play La Pellegrina, stands right at the intersection of renaissance and baroque.  It’s no coincidence that art historians also date the baroque style from this same period.

The main composers were Luca Marenzio and Cristofano Malvezzi but Jacopo Peri, credited with the first opera, Dafne, now lost, was also involved.  So, too, was Giulio Caccini, whose Euridice of 1600 can claim joint honours with Peri’s opera of the same name as the first extant example of the species.  Emilio de’Cavalieri, whose Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo, also of 1600, is the first sacred opera or dramatic oratorio and who claimed to have beaten Peri and Caccini as the first opera composer, was also involved in some of the intermedii.  Look out for my review of Cavalieri’s Rappresentatione, as performed by Concerto Vocale and Akademie für alte Musik directed by René Jacobs (Harmonia Mundi HMC902200/01).

Forget about the musicological significance of these pieces and sit back to enjoy the music as you might enjoy a set of renaissance madrigals.  There’s no great dramatic import here, or in any musical drama before Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo (1607), but that’s not a serious problem.  In the original production the drama was all in the action.  The subtitle of the Andrew Parrott recording (below) is Una Stravaganza dei Medici; the whole affair surely was extravagant, taking months to prepare, and it would be beyond the scope of any modern production to reproduce sea fights, slaying of the python and so on unless it were to be done on film with CGI – there’s a thought.

We already had two recordings of these works, one good, from the Linde Consort, the other superb, with Emma Kirkby, Tessa Bonner, Emila van Evera, Nigel Rogers, The Taverner Consort, Choir and Players directed by Andrew Parrott.  Originally released on EMI Reflexe in 1988 in de luxe format, it was long absent from the catalogue but has recently returned in a simpler format on Virgin/Erato Rediscoveries 6026842.

I never expected to hear anything to match that Parrott recording but the Paradizo comes very close indeed.  Singing, direction and recording are all delightful and the fact that it was recorded live adds something extra.  I played the Parrott recording immediately afterwards – not always a wise thing to do because it exaggerates differences – and, though none of the singing on the Sempé version quite matches the ethereal qualities of Parrott’s three sopranos, the newer recording is slightly fuller and the overall impression even more of a celebratory occasion, slightly outdoing even Parrott in the quality that makes his recording preferable to Linde’s.  Try the final track on both recordings, however, and there’s very little in it.

I understand that the Paradizo booklet is very fine, too, but I had no access to that, alas, as neither the streamed version from Qobuz nor the download comes with the booklet.  That’s no great matter if, like me, you already have the texts with the EMI booklet.  You also miss out on the second CD on which Skip Sempé explains and analyses the music, perhaps less of a problem, but I must harp on yet again about the problem caused when downloads come without the booklet.  It does need to be dealt with.  If your Italian is up to it, the original texts are here.

The Parrott recording is available for streaming or download from Qobuz with booklet – texts and notes – but here comes another grumble, this time about the unfathomable economics of the music business: it costs rather more to download than the typical selling price of the CD, around Ł7.60 or $12.99.

Now I shall have to think about which version I choose to play in future – Parrott or Sempé: both will do very well.

Brian Wilson 


Primo Intermedio: The Harmony of the Spheres
Cristofano MALVEZZI (1547-1599) Sinfonia, a 6
Antonio ARCHILEI (1550-1612) or Emilio de’CAVALIERI (c.1550-1602) Dalle piů alte sfere
Cristofano MALVEZZI Noi, che cantando, a 8; Sinfonia, a 6; Dolcissime Sirene, a 6;  A voi reali amanti, a 15; Coppia gentil, a 6

Secondo Intermedio: The Muses defeat the Pierides in a singing contest
Luca MARENZIO (1553/4-1599) Sinfonia, a 5; Belle ne fe’ natura, a 3; Chi dal delfino, a 6; Se nelle voci nostre, a 12; O figlie di Piero, a 18

Terzo Intermedio: Apollo slays the Python at Delphi
Luca MARENZIO Qui di carne si sfama, a 12; O valoroso Dio, a 4; O mille volte, a 8

Quarto Intermedio: The Golden Age is foretold
Giulio CACCINI (c.1545-1618) Io che dal ciel cader
Cristofano MALVEZZI Or che le due grand’alme, a 6
Giovanni de’BARDI (1534-1612) Miseri habitator, a 5

Quinto Intermedio: Arion and the Dolphin
Luca MARENZIO Io che l’onde raffreno, a 5
Cristofano MALVEZZI E noi con questa bella diva, a 5; Sinfonia, a 6
Jacopo PERI (1561-1633) Dunque fra torbid’onde
Cristofano MALVEZZI Lieti solcando il mare, a 7

Sesto Intermedio: The Gift of Harmony and Rhythm to Mankind
Cristofano MALVEZZI Dal vago e bel sereno, a 6; O qual risplende nube, a 6
Emilio de’CAVALIERI Godi turba mortal
Cristofano MALVEZZI O fortunato giorno, a 30
Emilio de’CAVALIERI O che nuovo miracolo, a 5/a 3  

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