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Altri canti d’amor - 17th Century Instrumental Works
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Sinfonia – Altri Canti d’Amor [3.35]
Biagio MARINI (1594-1663)
Sonata prima sopra ‘fuggu dolente core” [2.40]
Barbara STROZZI (1619-1677)
L’Eraclito Amoroso [6.07]
Marco UCCELLINI (1603-1680)
Aria Decima Terza sopra “Questa bella sirena” [3.27]
Sonata Nona Op 5 [6.06]
Aria Quarta sopra la Ciaccona a 3 [2.59]
Leonor de LERA
Diminuzioni sopra ‘Lamento d’Apollo’ [5.06]
Tarquinio MERULA (1595-1665)
Chiacona a 3 [3.52]
Riccardo ROGNONI (1550-1620)
“Ancor che col partire” per la viola bastarda [5.11]
Francesca CAVALLI (1602-1676)
Canzon a 3 [6.20]
Lucidissima Face (Aria from “La Calisto”)
L’Estro d’Orfeo/ Leonor de Lera
rec. 2016, Church of San Juan Bautista de Secadura, Cantabria, Spain

This is a CD of instrumental pieces, which, largely, use the important renaissance and baroque technique of adding ‘diminutions’ to arias, madrigals and opera extracts, pieces that would have been well known during the period. Diminutions being passages of passing notes, which elaborated, ornamented and linked phrases sometimes in the most extravagant manner and showed off the virtuosity of the performer. This at a time when instruments were being at last freed from their previous subservience to vocal works and especially to polyphony.

This disc also marks the debut of the ensemble ‘L’estro d’Orfeo’ so called, I suspect, because their director Leonor de Lera plays her own diminutions on the baroque violin in a 17th Century style, using Cavalli’s aria Lamento d’Apollo’ from his 1640 opera Gli amori d’Apollo e di Dafne. The disc’s title, which is surely familiar, Altri Canti d’amor, is taken from the opening piece in Monteverdi’s 8th Book of madrigals of 1638 and the original is used likewise here as an opening Sinfonia in which the melodic line of the vocal part is played on an instrument which, it was often said, could resemble the human voice, that is, the cornetto played with remarkable beauty and sensitivity here and elsewhere by Josué Melédez. He is probably at his best in Barbara Strozzi’s L’Eraclito Amoroso’ from her Cantate, arietta e duetti of 1651 in which he has to play a warmly lyrical aria and the showy recitativic passages. The continuo work by Javier Nuñez is also wonderfully subtle.

Of course, 17th Century Italian musicians were taught how to improvise around melodies, as are modern jazz musicians, and various text books were available to aid them: one such from 1592 by the little known Riccardo Rognoni, ends with an astonishing set of diminutions on Rore’s famous madrigal ‘Ancor che col partire’; this is played with amazing fluency and clarity on the viola bastarda or I should say in the bastarda style which is famously virtuosic and for which the instrument was developed. I’m not sure if this is played by Rodney Prada who is listed as the viola da gambaist, Lucia Giraudo who plays baroque violin or indeed Leonor de Lera.

Two other themes run through the disc. Leonor de Lera has entitled her booklet notes Love, supreme affect which emotion “is the principal argument of the majority of the vocal pieces that exist –madrigals, songs, operas”. The second theme is the musical form of the ‘Ciaccona’ or you might call it the ‘Chaconne’ or ‘Passacaglia’, which is really a repeated short bass line or a repeated set of harmonies. One of the most famous such falling bass lines occurs in Monteverdi’s ‘Lamento dell Ninfa’ again in his Book 8 and Cavalli quotes it in his Canzon a 3.

Tarquinio Merula’s (not to be confused with Claudio Merulo one of Monteverdi’s predecessors at St. Mark’s) Chiacona a 3 col Basso (1637) uses the same bass line as in his own love song ‘Su la centra amorosa’.

You will notice that the term Sonata and Canzoni seem interchangeable and some students find this confusing. Marini in his 1655 collection from which his sonata comes calls his collection ‘Sonate da chiesa a da camera’, in which he is trying to make a distinction between the two style types. Canzona has then been deliberately replaced. Whereas Cavalli’s publication of the following year still uses ‘Canzon’. Merula’s collection is entitled Canzoni, overo sonata concertate…. with ‘overo’ indicating that in 1624 there was no distinction between Sonata and Canzona. Uccelini uses a very similar title for his 1649 collection from which the Sonata nona comes. So, its best to forget the precise nature these forms and realise that they were in flux for much of the first half of the 17th Century.

The booklet essay is of interest and covers some of the background but a great detail of space is devoted to the more tedious artist biographies with photographs.

With so much exquisite playing and rare and magical music my only other gripe, and it is a significant one I feel, is that the disc weighs in at well less than the usually obligatory hour. The programme is however beautifully planned and recorded in detail and with atmosphere in a beautiful medieval church in northern Spain.

Gary Higginson



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