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Luca MARENZIO (c1553 - 1599)
Quinto Libro di Madrigali
Leggiadrissima eterna Primavera [3:43]
Amatemi ben mio [2:24]
Ecco che 'l ciel a noi chiraro e sereno [3:52]
Nel dolce seno della bella Clori [6:35]
Rivi, fontane e fiumi all'aur'al cielo [2:12]
Come fuggir per selva ombrosa e folta [2:21]
Canzone: Baci soavi e cari [16:31]
Uscite, uscite ninfe [2:43]
S'a veder voi non vengo, alma mia luce [2:42]
Coppia di donne altera [2:52]
Con la sua man la mia [2:44]
Giunto un bel fonte il trasmutato in fiore [2:49]
Leggiadre ninfe e pastorelli amanti [2:28]
Antonio BICCI (1552-1614)
Candide perle [2:11]
Vivrò dunque lontano [3:07]
Spiri dolce Favonio Arabi odori [4:42]
La Compagnia del Madrigale (Rossana Bertini, Francesca Cassinari (soprano), Elena Carzaniga (contralto), Giuseppe Maletto, Raffaele Giordani (tenor), Daniele Carnovich (bass)); Elena Biscuola (soprano)
rec. 2011 and 2014, Chiesa della Beata Vergine al Colletto, Roletto, Italy. DDD
Texts and translations included
GLOSSA GCD922804 [64:17]

The madrigal was one of the main forms of secular vocal music of the late renaissance. It was very much a genre for connoisseurs and was performed in aristocratic circles. Music was a fixed part of any aristocrat's education: most of them were able to play an instrument or to sing. That certainly was the case with Virginio Orsini, Duke of Bracciano (1572-1615), to whom Luca Marenzio dedicated his fifth book of madrigals for six voices which was published in 1591. He was a son of Isabella de' Medici, a woman who was a lover of music and especially of singing. He studied with Emilio de' Cavalieri, one of the main composers of the late 16th century. He was also friendly with Giulio Caccini who was to become the main figurehead of the seconda prattica which would emerge in the early 17th century. Moreover he was active as a poet, and some of his poems were set to music by Scipione Dentice.

Cavalieri participated in the composition and performance of the intermedi for La Pellegrina, part of the celebrations of the marriage of Ferdinando de' Medici and Christina of Lotharinga in 1589. At that time Luca Marenzio was in Ferdinando's service; the latter may have specially engaged him for these festivities. Before that he had been in the service of Cardinal Madruzzo, first in Trent and then in Rome, until the Cardinal's death in 1678. He then entered the service of Cardinal Luigi d'Este. From early in his career he had published madrigals, and it was the genre of the madrigal for which he became most famous. In 1590 Virginio Orsini became his patron.

The fifth book which is the subject of the present disc was a kind of wedding present for Orsini who in 1589 had married Flavia Peretti, grandniece of the by then deceased Pope Sixtus V. The collection opens with Leggiadrissima eterna Primavera which closes with the line "The heavens are ablaze with more exquisite desires, by adorning and inspiring everything, and by illuminating the honour which shines forth in Flavia and Virginio." The collection includes thirteen madrigals; the texts are by various authors, some anonymous. The most famous of them are Torquato Tasso (Amatemi ben mio, Nel dolce seno) and Battista Guarini. The latter is the author of the best-known madrigal from the collection, Baci soave e cari. It comprises five stanzas of different length which all begin with the word baci, "kisses".

The fact that this collection was meant as a wedding present explains, according to Marco Bizzarini in his liner-notes, that " the focus of many of the works in the Quinto Libro centres on the beauty of nature and the sweetness of love; indeed, with a few rare exceptions we find neither gravity nor seriousness in the poems, nor any trace of the melancholic muse of Petrarch (...)". However, in many pieces we find some dark streaks which allow Marenzio to demonstrate the expressive power he was famous for. These madrigals include many moments which demonstrate what the term madrigalism is about, whether it is the depiction of sighing, laughing or the blowing of the wind. He also uses the scoring for expressive reasons. In Coppia di donne altera the opening lines describe the attitude of "two haughty ladies" and these are given to the high voices. The lower voices enter in the fourth line: "[Both] of them are warriors".

Marenzio included one madrigal by Antonio Bicci, a composer from Florence whose oeuvre is confined to seven madrigals which were all included in their own collections by other composers. It is rather odd that the liner-notes don't pay any attention to this. It should also be noted that the madrigals in tracks 5, 8 and 10 are not from Marenzio's fifth book but from other collections.

There can be little doubt that right now La Compagnia del Madrigale is worldwide the best ensemble for the performance of Italian madrigals. I have reviewed all their previous recordings and I rated everyone of them very highly. There is every reason to do the same here. We have here a group of singers with exceptionally nice voices which blend perfectly. The delivery is outstanding and every detail of the text comes across. They have a wide dynamic range: some passages or words are sung very loudly, others in an almost whispering piano, just as the text requires. On some highly emotional moments they manage to create a collective messa di voce without forcing it. The result is a very compelling disc. If you love Italian madrigals you definitely should not miss it.

Johan van Veen



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