L'arpa Barberini - Music for harp and soprano in Early Baroque Rome

Roberta Invernizzi (soprano)
Margret Köll (harp)
Recorded October & November 2014 at the Église Saint-Martin, Bursins, Switzerland DDD
Texts and translations included
ACCENT ACC24310 [64:11]

If you like keyboard music or music for plucked instruments from the renaissance and baroque periods there are many discs to choose from. The harp is a different story. Although the playing of historical harps has become quite common since the early 1990s the number of solo recordings is not that large. That is probably due to the fact that there is not that much music which is specifically written for the harp. Harpists of the 17th century - the heighdays of the instrument - usually played music written for either keyboard or lute. Some collections explicitly indicated the harp as an alternative to the keyboard. An example is the Obras de música para tecla, arpa y vihuela by Antonio de Cabezón. Some single works, for instance by the Neapolitan composer Trabaci, also refer to the harp as one of the possible instruments.

The present disc focuses on music written in Rome. Its title refers to a powerful family from the first half of the 17th century and to a specific instrument associated with one of its members. The Barberini were of Tuscan origin; its most prominent member was Maffeo (1568-1644) who became cardinal in 1606 and was elected Pope in 1623; he took the name of Urbanus VIII. He used his position to appoint one of his brothers and two of his nephews as cardinals. They all became important patrons of the arts and especially of music. One of the legacies of their musical interests are 116 volumes of music which in 1902 were donated to the Vatican library. Another is the harp the title of this disc refers to.

In his liner-notes Bernhard Schrammek calls it the "instrumental showpiece of the Barberini's". It was built in 1620 and has remained almost unchanged until today. The harp is especially notable for the gilded and richly decorated pillar which is crowned by the Barberini coat of arms. "It is an extraordinary instrument, not only from an optical but also from a musical point of view: the strings are arranged in three rows, which allows chromatic playing is all keys." On the present disc Margret Köll plays a copy of this instrument, constructed in 2007 by Eric Kleinmann. She has chosen the repertoire which could have been played on this instrument in the time of the Barbarini's.

The harp is played here in two roles. Margret Köll has selected a number of solo pieces which are originally scored for either keyboard (Frescobaldi) or theorbo (Kapsberger). The harp was also frequently used in an accompanying role, for instance in opera. Here we hear a number of solo pieces by Orazio Michi dell'Arpa. His nickname indicates that he was a renowned harpist; he was probably trained in Naples but the earliest trace of his existence is a document of 1613 from Rome. Here he made a career until his death in 1641. His reputation is documented by various testimonies from contemporaries. No solo pieces from his pen for his own instrument have survived; a little under one hundred compositions have come down to us, exclusively pieces for voice and bc. Most of them have been preserved in two manuscripts in the Biblioteca Casanatense and in a manuscript which is held in the Biblioteca Nazionale, both in Rome. They reflect the monodic style of his time; in some he makes a distinction between recitative and aria sections but that is not the case in the pieces included in the present programme. The placement of the basso continuo figures in some of the vocal parts - rather than on a different stave - suggests a performance by a singer who accompanies himself. The harp was a common instrument for the realization of the basso continuo but if there is any music where its use is the most obvious option it is here.

Luigi Rossi was one of the most renowned composers of his time who worked in Naples and Rome. He has become especially known for his opera Orfeo which was first performed in 1647 in Paris. The Passacaille is one of the very few instrumental pieces from his pen and is also connected to France as it has been preserved in a manuscript with mainly French keyboard pieces which also include compositions by Froberger. The main part of his oeuvre comprises canzonettas and cantatas, mostly for solo voice and bc. Hor che l'oscuro manto is a fine specimen of this genre.

Paolo Quagliati was from Chioggia and settled in Rome around 1574 and stayed here until his death. He was mainly active as organist or maestro di cappella in various churches but also produced a substantial corpus of secular music. Hardly any instrumental music by Quagliati is known; the Toccata dell'ottavuo tuono is included in Girolamo Diruta's Il Transilvano, the first comprehensive treatise on organ playing in history which was published in two volumes in 1593 and 1609.

This a most fascinating disc. The use of a copy of such a renowned instrument as the Arpa Barberini is its main asset but it is also the quality of the music which makes this disc an unequivocal success. One gets a very good impression of the splendour of musical life in Rome in the time of the Barberini's. And this is just a very small selection of the huge amount of music written by such famous masters as Frescobaldi and Kapsberger who were unrivalled on their respective instruments. Michi is far less known but deserves to be mentioned in the same breath. That is not all: we get here masterful performances by two first-class artists. Margret Köll is one of today's main exponents of the playing on historical harps. Only recently she recorded music from Naples; I rated that disc highly (review). Most of the solo pieces have their origin in improvisation and that has left its marks; Ms Köll explores these features to maximum effect. At the same time Italian music of the 17th century is almost always theatrical by nature, whether it is secular or sacred, vocal or instrumental. That comes clearly to the fore in Margret Köll's interpretations; a good example of improvisation and drama is Quagliati's Toccata dell'Ottava tuono. The harp itself also considerably contributes to this piece's dramatic character coming off. Roberta Invernizzi is one of Italy's most renowned singers specialing in early music. She often participates in performances of 18th-century repertoire but she is equally at home in the monodic style of the early 17th century. She gives much attention to the text and her treatment of ornamentation and dynamics is quite impressive. This is singing of the highest order.

The collaboration of Margret Köll and Roberta Invernizzi turns out to be an ideal partnership where both use their respective qualities for an expressive and penetrating interpretation of this fascinating repertoire.

Johan van Veen

An expressive and penetrating interpretation of fascinating repertoire.

Giovanni Girolamo KAPSBERGER (c1580-1651)
Toccata II arpeggiata [02:16]
Luigi ROSSI (1597-1653)
Hor che l'oscuro manto* [06:11]
Orazio MICHI dell'Arpa (1594-1641)
Spera mi disse amore* [05:29]
Paolo QUAGLIATI (c1555-1628)
Toccata dell'ottavo tuono [03:47]
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643)
Se l'aura spira tutta verzzosa [03:30]
Orazio MICHI dell'Arpa
Sospiri che uscite dall'arso mio sen* [02:24]
Fantasia [03:22]
Orazio MICHI dell'Arpa
Dolce frutto Amor compose* [01:47]
Madre non mi far monaca* [00:48]
Partite sopra l'aria di Monicha [06:11]
Balletto [03:33]
Orazio MICHI dell'Arpa
Perché cor mio* [03:51]
Toccata VIII di durezze e ligature [05:03]
Canzona [04:16]
Passacaille del Seigr. Louigi [03:11]
Orazio MICHI dell'Arpa
Alma che ti sollevi* [03:38]
Corrente V [01:14]
Mio ben, teco il tormento piu (Lamento di Euridice)* [03:28]

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