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Ninna Nanna: Lullabies from Baroque Italy
Pino De Vittorio (voice), Laboratorio ’600 / Franco Pavan
rec. 2019, Studio Griffa, Milan
Texts and translations included.
GLOSSA GCDP33003 [78:34]

My only quibble with this fascinating CD concerns its subtitle – “Lullabies from Baroque Italy”. This is misleading insofar as by no means all of its material is Baroque; 13 of its 24 tracks – listed as ‘Traditional’ above and often based on archival field recordings rather than musical scores, are of pieces which, in their origins, must surely predate the more self-conscious art of the seventeenth century in most cases. One further track, the last, was written by the Neapolitan actor and composer Roberto De Simone who was born in 1933.

There is, however, a greater homogeneity to the music than the diversity of its sources might lead one to expect. The Italian folk tradition of the lullaby, lullabies ordinary Italians have sung to their children across the centuries, is never far away in all 24 tracks. The vocalist throughout is the remarkable Pino De Vittorio. Born in Tarento, a city on the Apulian coast in Southern Italy, As an actor/singer De Vittorio has worked with the highly successful theatrical group La Compagnia Pupi e Fresedde (of which he was co-founder with Angelo Savelli); as a singer he has been very active in performing the various folk musics of Italy (especially of the south – the Mezzogiorno), while in the classical world he has worked and recorded with Antonio Florio’s Naples-based ensemble Cappella della PietÓ de Turchini. Whatever the repertoire, De Vittorio’s voice always has an ‘untrained’ folk quality to it – an aspect of its utter honesty; De Vittorio‘s respect for the text and music he performs is never in doubt; central to this respect is a concern to communicate the work’s emotional substance – this concern always takes precedence over the search for anything one could describe as, in the conventional sense, ‘vocal beauty’. De Vittorio’s voice and approach probably won’t immediately appeal to all listeners; for me they were something of an acquired taste, ‘acquired’ through hearing him on other recordings; I now find the voice thoroughly engaging. Here its rough-hewed unpretentiousness suits (for all the masculinity of his voice) the implied context of a parent singing a lullaby to a child (there have surely been almost as many fathers as mothers who have sung lullabies for their children?). Despite the superficial inappropriateness (perhaps) of his voice, De Vittorio’s performance convey to perfection the intimate faith of the ordinary people of the Mezzogiorno – as Franco Pavan writes in his superb booklet essay, “in the Mezzogiorno, one invites the saints to lunch, one goes walking with them and one argues with them …they become part of one’s family”.

Rarely have I been able to say that the booklet essay accompanying a CD was as rewarding as the music on the CD itself. In this case, however, I can. Having the same title as the CD, the five-and-a-half pages by Franco Pavan (a musicologist as well as a fine player of theorbo and archlute – and director of Laboratorio ’600) are illuminating; so much so that they would be well worth reading purely for their own sake and what they have to say about lullabies. (It is odd that Glossa choose to present the purchaser with English, French and German versions of this essay, but not Pavan’s Italian original).

Pavan’s brilliant essay begins with a brief description of a pictorial image of the death of Sarpedon, son of Zeus and the human woman Laodamia, as narrated in Book 16 of the Iliad. The image he seems to have in his mind is the one painted on a Greek krater (a vessel used for the mixing of wine and water) by Euphronius – formerly in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and now in the Archaeological Museum of Cerveteri in Lazio (Italy). An image search for ‘Euphronios Sarpedon krater’ quickly enables one to contemplate this beautiful work, which is very well described by Pavan (as translated by Mark Wiggins): “There, hanging suspended is the son of Laodamia, Sarpedon, lifeless … this awful burden, manifestly human, is being supported by the winged twins, Hypnos and Thanatos [Sleep and Death]”. Not surprisingly this image of a dead male (son of a divine father and a human mother) makes Pavan think of the related image of the Christian pietÓ, Christ ‘cradled’ after being taken down from the cross. In Christian typology the image of Mary cradling her dead son is an echo of Mary’s cradling of the Infant Christ. Given that sleep and death are ‘twins’, Pavan has laid the ground for the possibility of hearing/reading at least some lullabies as, in part, anticipatory lamentations for eventual death as well as encouragements to more immediate sleep. He sees the recurrent subject of the profoundest lullabies as that awareness of the “shifting boundaries between death and sleep” shared by “mothers … across the centuries”. I wonder whether perhaps there isn’t an etymological link between the Italian words nenia (a dirge or funeral lament – from Latin and ultimately Greek) and ninna nanna (a lullaby)? Pavan himself notes that “the dead are to be found populating the neniae and the lullabies of a profusion of songs from the Mezzagiorno”.

Not that all is so powerfully death-haunted here. There is, for example, a degree of exasperated playfulness in the text of track 3 ‘Oh, oh, oh, o picciriddu dormi rivo’ (‘Oh, oh, oh the little baby wants to sleep’), of which stanza two reads thus (in the translation provided by Andrea Friggi): “Oh, oh, oh sleep Pinuzzo, oh, oh sleep / And if Pinuzzo does not want to sleep / He will get several kicks in the arse”. In ‘Trotta trotta cavallo memŔ’ (‘Trot, trot, my horse’) (track 4) the emphasis – in both music and text – is on the repetitive rhythmic pattern, with little sense of the larger issues raised in Pavan’s essay. Of the pieces by Italian baroque composers ‘Venite, ˛ pastori’ by the little known Giovanni Battista Caputi is particularly beautiful – in part because it sets an especially fine and subtle text, which contains both an encouragement to the shepherds to approach the crib (presepe) and sing for the new-born Christ:

Come, shepherds
What are you waiting for?
Let us sing a lullaby
To the sweet baby

and imagines something of what they might have sung to Him:

Sleep, sleep my baby,
Great Lord of Paradise,
Who steals our hearts from our chests
With the rays
From your fair face.

Pino De Vittorio sings this piece very affectingly, with more than a little (but not too much) of the ‘sentimentality’ which is often characteristic of the religious art of the Mezzogiorno.

Among the purely instrumental pieces a particular highlight comes in the form of ‘Tarantella del Presepe’, arranged by Franco Pavan, a beautifully lucid piece of music-making which, more delicately than one might expect, exploits the distinctive timbres of the three plucked instruments. I remember reading somewhere (I can’t now remember where, probably in an Italian music magazine, my usual reading on Italian train journeys) that Pavan has a particular interest in the music of the tarantella. I very much hope that that interest will lead to another CD from Laboratorio ’600.
Pavan created Laboratorio ’600 as a small ensemble of plucked instruments to work on “forgotten repertoires of Italian music”. On this recording the ensemble consists of harpist Flora Papadopoulos and lutenist Elisa La Marca, along with Pavan himself playing, at various points, the theorbo, archlute and chittara battente (this last being a larger version of the baroque guitar, most often used in Italian folk music). Ninna nanna is not the first recorded collaboration between Laboratorio ’600 and Pino De Vittorio. Singer and ensemble recorded the superb CD Siciliane -The songs of an island (GLOSSA GCD P33001) in October 2012, which included in ‘Ninna nanna ri la rosa’ and ‘Ninna nanna delle donne’ precursors of the repertoire on the CD currently under review). Unfortunately I haven’t heard a subsequent collaboration: Occhi Turchini: Songs from Calabria (GLOSSA GCD P33022) which was recorded in May 2016.

Here on Ninna Nanna the audible ‘star’ is Pino De Vittorio (except, obviously on the purely instrumental tracks); but the project is primarily the result of Franco Pavan’s extensive research and vibrant musical imagination, as well his own instrumental accomplishment. This CD extends an invitation to all who are willing to step away, for a while, from the familiar and well-trodden musical paths. I hope that those who accept that invitation will come to value this CD as much as I do.

Glyn Pursglove

Francesco FLAMENGO (fl.c.1620-37)
1. Dormi dormi ben mio [5:15]
2. Oi nenna nenna [4:48]
3. Oh,oh, oh, o picciriddu dormi rivo [4:02]
4. Trotta trotta cavallo memŔ [1:40]
5. Pastorale calabrese [1:34]
6. La Bonasera [4:55]
7. Ninna di Borgia [2:37]
8. Ninna di Radicena [0:44]
Emanuele BARBELLA (1718-1777)
9. Pastorale [3:20]
10. Lucciola lucciola vien da me [4:00]
11. Lucciola lucciola vien da me [1:20]
12. Lanterna MÔgica [2:29]
13. Fa la nana la mi cuncheta [5:01]
14. Ninna Nanna [2:25]
15. Aria, che i paesani napoletani sonano con la zampogna [0:43]
Giovanni Battista CAPUTI (fl.c.1640)
16.Venite, ˛ pastori [6:03]
Giovanni Girolamo KAPSPERGER (c.1580-1651)
17. Piva [1:56]
18. Nat’Ŕ il Bambino Gies¨ [3:43]
Giovanni ZAMBONI (1664-1721)
19. Pastorale [3:57]
Matteo COFERATI (1638-1703]
20. Dolce giia della Mamma [5:09]
Domenico CIMAROSA (1749-1801]
21. Dormi Benigne Jesu [2:36]
Cristofero CARESANA (c.1640-1709)
22. Tarantella del Presepe, arr. Franco Pavan [2:24]
Giovanni Battista Da GAGLIANO (1594-1651)
Dormi dormi io giÓ non voglio [3:54]
Roberto De SIMONE [b.1933)
Canna Austina [3:46]

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