Li Due Orfei
Marc Mauillon (canto)
Angélique Mauillon (arpa doppia a tre registri)
rec. Polish Radio Witold Lutoslawski Concert Studio, Warsaw, Poland, 20-23 February 2015
ARCANA A393 [57:12]
Il due Orfei da Poliziano a Monteverdi was the title of Italian scholar Nino Pirrotta’s superb 1975 study of the contexts and compositions which created the circumstances for the flourishing of the first operas, in Italy in the early seventeenth century. Pirrotta’s central thesis was that opera was not born solely from the debates conducted by Florentine humanists, but rather was part of a collaborative tradition stretching back to Angelo Poliziano’s Orfeo of the 1470-80s. He presented evidence that Poliziano’s work was given with songs, and that the actors were musicians who accompanied themselves on lutes and lyra da braccias, improvising their melodies to fit Poliziano’s poetic forms.
Fast forward 100 years, to the heyday of the poet-musician, and we can imagine singer-composers such as Giulio Caccini and Jacopo Peri applauding Poliziano’s innovations. Alongside choreographer and theorist Emilio de’ Cavalieri, the two men participated in the devising of various and diverse entertainments during the latter years of the sixteenth century in which the humanist theories discussed in academies such as Count Giovanni de’ Bardi’s Florentine Accademia degli Alterati took practical form.
These culminated during the festivities accompanying the marriage of Maria de’ Medici and Henri IV of France. On 6 October 1600, Ottavio Rinuccini’s L’Euridice, a favola drammatica, was performed in the Palazzo Pitti with singers close to Peri performing his music. Peri himself played the role of Orfeo while Euridice, the Ninfa and Shepherds were taken by singers of the Concerto Caccini, who sang music by their master. In December 1600 two settings of Rinuccini’s Euridice were published: Caccini’s was performed in Florence on 5 December 1602 but there is no evidence that Peri’s work was performed.
There was fierce rivalry between the two musicians. Caccini was a commoner from Tivoli, while the Roman Peri’s ancestors were Florentine aristocracy, and Denis Morrier’s liner notes tell us that contemporaries considered Peri the “more scholarly”, while Caccini “puts more grace in his inventions”. This recording of monodic songs by Marc and Angélique Mauillon places their achievements side by side.
Singer Marc Mauillon is simply described as ‘canto’. His tone colour is largely tenorial, but his range extends effortlessly and with fullness at the bottom and there is a lovely freedom in his delivery which signifies a confluence of classical technique and folk naturalism – which results in a seemingly artless sincerity. Mauillon’s rendition of these 17 songs conjures before us the figure of the Renaissance poet-musician, skilled in declamatory song, and accompanying himself on the lyre. Mauillon’s refined delivery seems the epitome of the Renaissance concept of sprezzatura, as articulated in Castiglione’s Libro del Cortegiano: that is, a vocal virtuosity – in which extremes of tessitura are juxtaposed and embellishments are multiple and elaborate – that is delivered with the ease and casualness embodying Platonic concepts of aristocratic manners.
While the liner notes repeatedly draw attention to the importance, indeed the priority, of the text in monodic expression, it’s worth remembering that this is essentially a lyric idiom, rather than a dramatic one. It is from the melodic beauty of the line that the music gains its rhetorical power, underpinned by Orpheus’s lyre, and both Marc and Angélique Mauillon demonstrate the requisite technical mastery and musical sensitivity. The vocal melodies unfold with exquisite ease and directness, enhanced by the expressive freedom of the continuo accompaniment. The sound quality is superb, allowing every nuance to be appreciated, and texts and translations are provided.
Caccini dominates the selection presented. The composer’s European reputation and influence was enhanced by the publication in 1602 of Le nuove musiche (and, subsequently, the Nuove musiche e nuova Maniera di scriverle of 1614) and it is from this first collection of strophic arias and ornamented madrigals that the Caccini songs here presented are largely drawn. Mauillon is untroubled by the demands of Caccini’s coloratura. He embraces a wide range with evenness, is able to change of the weight and colour of his voice with unforced nuance, and demonstrates astonishing flexibility through the expressive melismas.
The first track, ‘Dolcissimo sospiro’ (So sweet sigh), exemplifies all, and how much, that there is to admire. The vocal line is gently decorated, the tone clear, the sentiment sincere. In anticipation of the Baroque technique of clair obscur, love is juxtaposed with death, ecstasy with anguish, and this bitter-sweet amalgam is enriched by the contrasts between the large leaps and descending stepwise of the accompanying bass line, and the roving inner voices. Animation comes with the declaration, ‘Ecco, ch’io t’apro il core’ (Now I open my heart to you), and the accompaniment more closely follows the rhythms of the vocal line; overcome by feeling, the singer indulges in a wonderful melisma to convey his torment that his sighs ‘Che forse vola in sen ad altro amante’ (perhaps float in the heart of another lover). The section beginning ‘A quei sospir ardenti’ (To those fervent sighs) moves even more freely between emotional restraint and impassioned outpouring, finding a greater calm at the close as the vocal melismas are contained within more controlled formal units.
‘Vedrò ’l mio sol’ (I shall see my sun) demonstrates the performers’ broad range of feeling and the expressive complicity between voice and accompaniment in moving the listener’s heart. The opening is gentle, reassuring (I shall see my sun, I shall see before I die), and one can appreciate how Angélique Mauillon uses the continuo bass line to propel the narrative, while the higher-lying accompanying elaborations serve as a counter-voice to the singer. The sprezzatura is as much harmonic as melodic and above the tied or held bass notes, the lutenist plies expressive dissonances. There is a twist towards the minor tonality – ‘Ma senza morte’ (But without death) – and here we notice a slight cooling of the singer’s tone, an almost imperceptible hardening, and a languorous weight pulling at the tempo. But, a sudden injection of pace/anxiety, ‘E s’io morrò, morrà mia speme ancora’ (And if I should die, then my hope will die), pushes towards a concluding melisma of great intricacy as voice and lute interweave.
‘Amarilli, mi bella’ (Amarilli, my beauty) confirms that joy and melancholy are inseparable.
Mauillon’s declaration to Amarilli that she should not doubt that ‘You are the love of my life?’ (D’esser tu l’amor mio?) droops with dejection, but when the poet-narrator urges his beloved to ‘Believe it’ (Credilo pur) there is refreshed urgency, leading to a pressing request that she take an arrow and ‘Open my heart’ (‘Aprim’ll petto e vedrai scritto in core’), accompanied by a fresh openness and warmth to hint at both the revelation and intensity to be uncovered. But, the inscription to be found within his soul – ‘Amarilli è ’l mio amore’ (Amarilli is my love) – is couched in conspiratorial softness, gradual growing in ardour through the repetitions of her name, and dying in decorative, orgasmic sweetness.
The vocal idiom of the time encompasses a wide range of nuances between what we would now call recitative and aria, as demonstrated by ‘Tutto ’l i piango’ (All day I weep) which seems to anticipate the declamatory power of opera. Mauillon’s use of the text is superb in this substantial song. After the vocal elaborations, the plunging bass and silence which follow the exclamation, ‘Lasso! (Alas!), are heart-chilling. Similarly ‘Moveti a pietà’ (Have pity on my torment), in which Mauillon expertly delivers all of the score’s complexities and adds a few ornaments of his own, has enormous rhetorical power. There is a wonderful slowing for the final phrase: after the sigh, ‘Morend’ohimè’, the music slips to the minor key, literally a dying exhalation – ‘ch’al vento ait’io chieggio!’ (I asked the wind for help) – as if the singer’s cry is borne away by the wind. Mauillon ends the song on the major third degree; my score indicates an open fifth but, the singer’s freedom is paramount, and I find the sweetened third even more affecting.
‘Torna, deh torna’ (Return, oh return) demonstrates the agility of Mauillon’s voice, which is matched by the crisply defined but light-weighted upper-voice accompaniment. Angélique Mauillon takes up the ends of phrases and impels the music into the next utterance; the between-phrase imitative elaborations are wonderfully persuasive, and harmonic direction is provided by a strong walking bass. The pause between the final two lines – ‘Senit de la mia voce’ (Hear in my plaintive voice) – signals resignation: not weariness, just quietude, as the accompaniment sinks into darkness.
The emotional temperature is not always turned up to boiling point though. The second half of Caccini’s Le nuove musiche are termed ‘airs’, and here the spirit of the dance is never far away. The syncopated swaying of ‘Mentre che fra doglie e pene’ (Whilst between agonies and anguish) is hypnotic: there is a beautiful grace to the decorations and the repetitions of melodic and rhythmic motifs, together with the strophic structure is entrancing. ‘Odi, Euterpe’ presents a song within a song: ‘Listen Euturpe’ cries this ‘Orpheus’, who then presents a simply ornamented line – telling the story of a shepherd’s evening encounter with his love Lydia – which exudes exuberance and fleetness. I challenge anyone not to find their foot tapping, lulled into carefree joy by the sensuality of the cross-pulse hemiolas. Similarly, the major/minor and dynamic contrasts of ‘Non ha’l ciel cotanti lumi’ (The firmament has not so many stars) create real story-telling.
In the Preface to his 1600 Euridice Peri claimed to have formulated a new style, half-song, half-speech employed by actors on ancient stage: music was, he professed, like poetry (as described by Aristotle) – an act of imitation. Caccini, Cavalieri and Peri may all have been convinced that they had devised a new expression medium, but this disc suggests that Peri’s emphasis lay in the accent and expression of the text.
‘Tu dormi’ is astonishingly mysterious; the repeated phrase titular motif seems to come from another world, one of shadows: the bass line intones profoundly and resonantly while the voice embodies the drifting fantasias of sleep. Strange harmonic coils disturb and the eerie picking at the lute’s strings is mercurial. This is a substantial outpouring of Renaissance rhetoric.
Unlike Caccini, whose European influence was considerable, Peri limited his activities to Florence and Mantua. Few of his works survive, but the 1609 Varie musiche anthology of pieces for one, two and three voices, which includes strophic, madrigalian and some spiritual items provides the Mauillons with some beautiful songs. ‘Tra le donne onde s’onora’ (Amongst women, where are honoured) is a light dance – though the form is more flexible than Caccini’s airs, with greater rhythmic asymmetry and a recurring instrumental ritornello between the strophes. Peri’s setting of ‘Tutto ‘l di piango’ is notable for its searching melodic line and striking chromaticisms, such as the radical upwards slide on ‘lagrimando’ (weeping), which Mauillon accentuates evoking an expansive emotional canvas. In contrast, the carefree triple-time meanderings of ‘Al fonte, al prato’ (To the spring, to the meadow) are blithely bucolic.
Between the vocal items Angélique Mauillon intersperses instrumental numbers by Lazzaschi and Piccinini which reinforce the prevailing spirit of the day. It is a spirit that is beautifully encapsulated in the final song on this disc, Caccini’s ‘Pien d’amoroso affetto’ (Full of loving affection), in which the sensuality of the text – ‘Deh trafiggim’il petto/S’hai ch’io mora diletto’ (Come – pierce my breast/ If you have pleasure that I die) – is counter-balanced by the dulcet poignancy of the vocal tone. Mauillon embodies both lover and beloved, and Phyllis’ reply – “Io di morte son vaga,/Ma da te la desio/Dolcissimo cor mio’ (I wish for death/Oh my dearest heart/But I wish it from you) – would pierce the hardest heart.
Giulio CACCINI (1551-1618)
Dolcissimo sospiro [2:07]
A quei sospir ardenti [2:35]
Mentre che fra doglie e pene [2:05]
Vedrò ’l mio sol [3:00]
Luzzasco LUZZASCHI (1545-1607)
Toccata del quarto tono [2:11]
Jacopo PERI (1561-1633
Tu dormi, e ’l dolce sonno [5:27]
Tra le donne onde s’onora [2:02]
Amarilli mia bella [2:27]
Tutto ’l di piango [4:59]
Odi, Euterpe [4:04]
Movetevi a pietà [2:21]
Torna, deh ronta (Romanesca) [2:56]
Alessandro PICCININI (1566-1638)
Aria di sarabanda in varie partite [3:02]
Un di soletto [2:41]
Perfidissimo volto [2:59]
Non ha ’l ciel cotanti lumi [2:34]
Tutto ’l dì piango [3:12]
Al fonte, al prato [1:26]
Pien d’amoroso affetto [2:24]