La Pazza - A madman's apology
S'io son pazzo [3:14]
Sigismondo D'INDIA (c1582-before 1629)
Tutto il dě piango [3:07]
Giovanni Maria TRABACI (1575-1647)
Consonanze stravaganti [2:40]
La Pazzia [12:42]
Romanesca (harp) [2:06]
Barbara STROZZI (1619-1677)
L'Eraclito amoroso [6:27]
Romanesca (harpsichord) [2:11]
Francesca CACCINI (1587-after 1641)
Lasciatemi qui solo [6:29]
Romanesca (lute consort) [1:46]
Č pazzo il mio core [5:34]
Gianpietro DEL BUONO (?-after 1657)
LXXVII, Obligo di dui Zoppi, e dui Ciechi [2:34]
Benedetto FERRARI (1603/04-1681)
Occhi miei [4:29]
Giovanni Maria TRABACI
Durezze e ligature [2:07]
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Voglio di vita uscir (SV 337) [5:55]
Flavio Ferri-Benedetti (alto)
Il Profondo (Amélie Chemin, Sophie Lamberbourg, Jonathan Pesek (viola da gamba), Federico Abraham (violone, double bass), Masako Art (harp), Daniele Caminiti (theorbo, archlute), Josías Rodríguez Gándara (archlute, guitar), Mirko Arnone (colascione, mandolin), Johannes Keller (harpsichord))
rec. July 2013, Hall of Trotte Pfyn, Thurgau, Switzerland. DDD
Texts and translations included
RESONANDO RN10001 [61:29]

Madness is a term which can be used with various meanings, some serious, some less so. This disc is devoted to madness, but not in the psychological sense. The most popular subject of secular music in the baroque era is love, with all its attendant trials and tribulations. The music on the present disc was written by Italian composers of the 17th century and in each piece the protagonist talks about his experiences of love. Lovers tend to lose control of their feelings, and that makes these pieces fit for a programme about madness.

Some of the items recorded here are quite serious. That certainly goes for Tutto il dě piango by Sigismondo d'India, on a text by Francesco Petrarca: "I cry all day and then, at night, when poor mortals rest, I find myself in tears and my grief redoubles". In the same vein Francesca Caccini's Lasciatemi qui solo begins with the words: "Leave me alone here, fly back to your nest, ye birds, while I breathe out on this shore both my soul and my grief". One of the tribulations of love which is a returning subject in baroque cantatas is the fickleness of the beloved. That subject is expressed in L'Eraclito amoroso by Barbara Strozzi: "[In] my fair beloved, faithfulness is dead - he, that I believed to be so faithful!"

Their sad experiences in love drives them mad. However, in Strozzi's Č pazzo il mio core we meet another form of madness: "My heart is crazy since, always delirious, it loves a face that is all cruelty". In Monteverdi's Voglio di vita uscir another unhappy lover even wants to die: "I want to die! I want my bones to turn into dust, my limbs into ashes". The lover in Occhi miei by Benedetto Ferrari, though, has another idea: "I can well say that extreme grief does not kill!".

Probably the most intriguing and unusual part of this disc is the anonymous La Pazzia. It is a kind of hotchpotch of contrasting thoughts and feelings, with various musical forms and in different dialects. It is especially here that the madness of a lover is exposed. "Whoever does not know me will say that mine is true madness, that makes me happy. But all is rage, love's very effect, remaining in my heart". The next passage in the text shows what to expect: "I would like to versify: 'O heaven, o earth, o sea!' No, no, I want to sing 'la sol fa mi fa re'". What to make of a piece like this. Do we have to take it seriously, or is it a satire on the many pieces about love written in his time? Anyway, it is most intriguing, and I think that it is rightly interpreted here with considerably liberty and in a theatrical style. This piece is an example of the differentiation with which the various pieces on the programme are treated. Another example is the anonymous S'io son pazzo which opens the programme and includes ironic and 'serious' elements; both come off very well here.

The music on this disc is from the time in which composers aimed at stirring the emotions of the listeners and therefore tried to express in their compositions affects which are related to the texts. It was the task of the performers to communicate those affects. To that end they had various devices at their disposal: the colouring of the voice, dynamic inflections (including messa di voce), rhythmic flexibility and ornamentation. All of these tools are explored here, integrated into a natural unity, in the interests of expression. An example of the colouring of the voice is that Flavio Ferri-Benedetti sometimes switches to his chest register. I don't always see the reason for that, but it is certainly appropriate in the above-mentioned La Pazzia. It is clear that he feels completely at home in that particular piece. He is equally convincing in Lasciatemi qui solo, a magnificent piece by Francesca Caccini. The refrain "Lasciatemi morire" (Let me die) is sung with great subtlety.

The first half of the 17th century was also a time of experiments in the realms of harmony. That is particularly exposed here in the two instrumental pieces by Giovanni Maria Trabaci, originally written for harp or a keyboard instrument but performed here with a consort of viols - a completely legitimate choice. Another striking example is the aria Occhi miei by Benedetto Ferrara which ends with a line full of chromaticism and dissonants. Obviously the perfect intonation of Ferri-Benedetti and the instrumentalists is an essential prerequisite to the expression of the affetti.

The role of the instruments is an aspect of this recording which deserves some attention. Johannes Keller discusses at length the way the basso continuo is realized. Today we are used to seeing various instruments in the basso continuo section of an ensemble, and in performances of 17th-century Italian operas the number of basso continuo instruments is sometimes considerable, and a mixture of chordal (keyboard, harp, plucked instruments) and string instruments (viola da gamba, lirone). Here the voice is sometimes supported by a single instrument - harpsichord, harp - and in other cases by a consort or even various consorts of instruments. "Our instruments can be organized into three 'choirs': a four-voice viol consort; a lute consort comprising of two archlutes, theorbo and harp; and a harpsichord, which performs both a disconnecting and a connecting function", Keller writes in the booklet. This way some pieces are closer to a polyphonic madrigal than to a monody. I don't know what to think of that; it sounds very well, but that is no argument in favour of this practice. I would like to see some historical evidence for it. In that respect this disc gives some food for thought.

The same goes for the inclusion of a mandolin in the instrumental ensemble. Today this instrument plays a marginal role in musical life and is mostly associated with some works by Vivaldi. However, it is known that the mandolin has been in use since the late 16th century; it probably played a more important role than we are inclined to think. Maybe it is time to give it a more prominent place in performances of 17th-century repertoire.

Italian music from the first half of the 17th century is often recorded, but unfortunately many discs plough over the same repertoire. These artists deserve praise for avoiding the obvious and presenting a programme of little-known and even completely unknown pieces. This way their disc is a useful addition to the catalogue. All the pieces included here are of fine quality and deserve to be performed and heard, and the performances are excellent. These factors make this a disc not to be missed.

Johan van Veen

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