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What Artemisia Heard – Music and Art from the Time of Caravaggio and Gentileschi
El Mundo/Richard Savino
rec. March 25-27, 2014, Skywalker Sound, Marin County, California
Sung texts and translations included
SONO LUMINUS DSL-92195 [76:26]

This CD is built around an interesting concept, but finally promises (at least implicitly) more than it can actually deliver. The ‘Artemisia’ of its title is Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652/3), one of the most interesting painters of her time, daughter of the (lesser) painter Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639), who overcame many obstacles and challenges in order to establish herself in a predominantly male world and was perhaps the first female artist to develop an individual style (while being clearly influenced both by her father and by the work of Caravaggio), to build a successful career as a painter and to exert a real influence on some of her male (and female) contemporaries and successors. The external evidence that she had a love of music is, as far as I know, limited, though it is surely significant that she developed close relationships with the lutenist, singer, composer and poet Francesca Caccini (1587-1640/41?) during her years in Florence and with Nicholas Lanier (1588-1666), another singer-lutenist-composer and Master of the King’s Music from 1625 to 1666 (and also a painter and art advisor to Charles I), first while both were in Venice and then again during the time she spent in London. She painted a number of musical subjects, such as a St. Cecilia (currently in in the Galleria Spada in Rome) and A Young Woman Playing a Violin (Detroit Institute of Arts). In 2014 the Wadsworth Atheneum, in Hartford, Connecticut, acquired what has been identified as a Self-Portrait as a Lute Player by Gentileschi. However, since most of her contemporaries also painted a number of musical subjects, it would be unsafe to take these pictures as evidence of a particular love of music.

Richard Savino, director of El Mundo, has arranged this programme to reflect the geographical sequence of Artemisia’s life – first in Rome, then, in turn, in Florence, Venice, Naples and London, adding a prologue and an epilogue. If this structure sounds like that of a five act play, the resemblance is by no means inappropriate, since Artemisia led a thoroughly ‘dramatic’ life. Indeed, she has interested several dramatists, including the Canadian Sally Clark (Life Without Instruction, 1991) and Joy McCullough-Carranza (Blood, Water, Paint,2015); at least one film (Artemisia, 1997, directed by Agnès Merlet) has been devoted to her and there are two excellent quasi-biographical novels, Alexandra Lapierre’s Artemisia (1998) and Susan Vreeland’s The Passion of Artemisia (2002). Needless to say, a good deal of serious art-historical scholarship has also been devoted to Artemisia’s life and work. This is not the place for a biography of the painter; standard reference works – at least reasonably modern ones – will provide what is required. One key fact, and one of the reasons why she has attracted so much interest from female novelists, dramatists, etc. is that in her late teens, Artemisia was raped on several occasions by Agostino Tassi, a painter who specialized in architectural detail and was then working with her father Orazio. Another man, a certain Cosimo Quorlis, was also involved in the abuse. When Orazio Gentileschi pressed charges against Tassi, Artemisia bravely gave evidence against him, and in the course of the proceedings she was subjected to the thumbscrews as well as a gynaecological examination. After the trial, Artemisia was married to a minor Florentine painter, Pierantonio Santesi, who turned out to be both promiscuously unfaithful and a financial wastrel. Artemisia earned most of the pair’s money by her paintings, attracting a number of significant commissions from Florentine patrons. It is remarkable that, despite this ill-treatment by Tassi and by her husband, along with the damage to her reputation, she should have succeeded in developing her skills as a painter so much that there was a considerable demand for her work. Establishing her independence through her painting, her career took her across Italy and, finally, to England, where her elderly father was then working, late in the 1630s. And a fine painter she was, by any standards – her works can easily be accessed online.

Richard Savino’s booklet notes recount his own ‘discovery’ of, and enthusiasm for Artemisia Gentileschi’s work and explain that he has “assembled a collection of music that she might have heard at various times throughout her life. For live programs I have paired these with images of paintings by Artemisia or by her contemporaries, that reflect my interpretation of her geographical location, the meaning of some of the texts she set to music, or the sonic qualities of the music itself”. Although the CD booklet is well-illustrated, with good quality reproductions of 8 pictures by Artemisia, her father and Caravagio, it would perhaps have been more rewarding to have had a list of the paintings which Savino chooses to use alongside particular pieces of music, in live performances. One wonders what sort of affinities Savino sees between specific paintings and particular pieces of music; more exact, and more revealing, one hopes, in some cases at least, than his suggestion in these notes that the CD opens “with a battaglia by Marco Uccellini of Venice, meant to evoke the battles that Artemisia was forced to wage throughout her life”. The analogy isn’t particularly helpful, given that Artemisa’s ‘battles’ were more unlike, than like, the kind of military encounter evoked in Uccelini’s music. In her life, Artemisa’s battles were psychological and social, rather than military and even when her paintings do explore violence (most famously in Judith Slaying Holofernes, in the Uffizi), it is not in a directly military context.

One is left then, to form inter-medial connections in one’s own mind, or just to enjoy the CD as an anthology of early Baroque music: a superior version of the kind of ‘Music in the Time of X’ compilation CD usually on sale at the major exhibition of an artist’s work. Judged as such, What Artemisia Heard proves to be a worthwhile but perhaps unexceptional disc. The works by Kapsberger come off particularly well, especially ‘L’onda che limpida’ in which, not for the only time in this programme, soprano Nell Snaidas is impressive, and the brief ‘Capona’, played by Paul Psarras (baroque guitar and Cheryl Anne Fulton (baroque harp). Of the other two sopranos, I fear that I find Céline Ricci’s voice less attractive and some of her singing spoilt by some odd emphases. The long list of El Mundo’s members, and the number of instruments some of them play, makes for a constant variety of timbre and texture. On the whole, the purely instrumental works fare best of all, such as the Sinfonia by Gagliano, played with subtly perceptive sympathy, the very attractive reading of the Sonata Prima of Dario Castello (a composer who, though undoubtedly of the second rank, impresses me favourably every time I hear one of his works) and the Sinfonia a due by Francesco Corbetta. Other highlights include Falconieri’s Sinfonia detta la buon’hora and Folia echo para mi Señora Tarolila du Carallenos. Nicholas Lanier’s ‘No more shall meads be deck’d with flow’rs’ is engagingly sung by Jennifer Ellis Kampani and she is joined by Nell Snaidas in an attractive account of Lanier’s ‘Thou[gh] I am Young’, a setting of words from a song in Ben Jonson’s pastoral play The Sad Shepherd (a point not noted in the booklet). Lanier’s work stands up pretty well to comparison with that of the Italian (or Italy-based) masters whose compositions fill up the rest of this disc, an illustration of how sophisticated and accomplished the cultural milieu of Charles I’s court was.

There is, then, plenty to enjoy here, even if Savino’s ambitious aim can’t really be sustained within the limits of a CD.

Glyn Pursglove

Previous review: Brian Wilson

Marco UCCELINI (1603-1680)
La Gran Battaglia [3:38]
Prima Roma: 1593-1614
Giovanni Girolamo KAPSBERGER (C.1580-1651)
L’onda che limpida 'Suite' [5:45]
Corrente Sesta [1:14]
Capona [2:32]
Benedetto FERRARI (1603-81)
Amanti [4:20]
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1638)
Canzona [2:42]
Domenico MAZZOCCHI (1592-1665)
Folle Cor [3:31]
Seconda Parte: Firenze 1614-1620
8) Sinfonia - Marco Gagliano
9) Lasciatemi qui solo - Francesca Caccini
10) Toccata - Alessandro Piccinini
11) Chi desia di saper - Francesca Caccini
Terza Parte: Venezia 1620-1630
12) Sonata Prima - Dario Castello
13) Et è pur dunque vero - Claudio Monteverdi
14) Come dolce hoggi l’auretta- Claudio Monteverdi
15) Sinfonia a due - Francesco Corbetta
Quarto Parte: Napoli 1630-1638
16) Sinfonia detta la buon’hora - Andrea Falconieri
17) Occhi belli - Luigi Rossi
18) Folia echa para mi Señora Doña Tarolilla di Carallenos - Andrea Falconieri
19) Festa Riso - Pietro Giramo
Quinto Parte: Londra 1638-1642
20) Symphonia in G - Nicholas Lanier
21) No More Shall Meads be Deck’d with Flow’rs - Nicholas Lanier
22) Thou I Am Young - Nicholas Lanier
23) Fan battaglia - Luigi Rossi

Performer details
Jennifer Ellis Kampani, Nell Snaidas, Céline Ricci (soprano) Paul Schipper (bass), Adam LaMotte, Lisa Grodin (violin), William Skeen (cello, viola da Gamba), Farley Pearce (violone), Paul Shipper (percussion, baroque guitar), Richard Savino (baroque guitar, theorbo), Adam Cockerham (baroque guitar, theorbo), Paul Psarraa (baroque guitar), John Schneiderman (archlute, baroque guitar), Cheryl Ann Fulton (baroque harp), Corey Jameson (harpsichord, organ)



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