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Giulio CACCINI (1551-1618)
Amarilli: Le nuove musiche di Giulio Caccini detto Romano (Florence, 1601/2)
Fantazyas: Roberto Balconi (tenor), Giangiacomo Pianrdi (theorbo), Marco Maontanelli (harpsichord)
rec. 10-19 June 2019, Chiesa di San Bartolomeo, Sondrio, Italy. DDD
Texts included; no translations

Not content with bringing us performances of less common music, Brilliant even sometimes duplicate such provision. That’s the case here: they already had a fine recording of music from Caccini’s 1601/2 collection Le nuove musiche, performed by Riccardo Pisani (tenor) and Ensemble Ricercare Antico, released in 2019 on 95794. I had some reservations – no texts in the booklet and some irregularities in the presentation of the digital version – but thought that recording well worth commending to any lover of Monteverdi interested in a contemporary composer who, like him, was moving in a similar direction away from the earlier polyphonic style – review.

That earlier release was ground-breaking. There had not been much of Caccini’s music in the catalogue before, and some of the tracks of the music of the other composers whose music is interspersed with the Caccini are world firsts. The performances, recording and presentation standards, apart from the lack of texts, bely the inexpensive price.

In one important respect, the new recording, devoted entirely to madrigals and arie from Caccini himself, improves on the presentation in that the texts are all included – but no translations, so your Italian, c.1600, had better be good. There are a few overlaps between the two recordings, which is a shame, but it gives me an opportunity to compare the two sets of performances. Of the pieces on the new recording, the older release also contains Amor io parto, Dovrò dunque morire, Udite amanti, Vedrò ‘l mio sol, Dolcissimo sospiro, Amarilli and Odi Euterpe.

The collection, here presented in entirety apart from some extracts from Rapimento di Cefalo, was published in 1602. It’s possible that some of the pieces, including the title piece of this new Brilliant collection, were actually by Giovanni Battista Guarini, Alessandro Guarini, Francesco Cini, or Ottavio Rinuccini. These – and some other – attributions are made in the booklet as if they were certain, without explanation. Whoever the composers, the music is all chosen to illustrate Caccini’s stated objectives in the preface, as explained by Roberto Balconi in his notes. In essence, the process began with the extra importance accorded to words in the mid sixteenth century: both the protestant reformers and the Council of Trent decreed that liturgical music should be less elaborate than before, and the new monodic style, while leaving room for a rich instrumental accompaniment, moved the words to the forefront in secular music, too.

Caccini played an important part in the development of seconda prattica, the post-polyphonic style which we now associate mostly with Monteverdi. If Caccini had not vied with Peri in composing the first opera, both on the theme of Orpheus and Eurydice, we might never have had Monteverdi’s Orfeo. Peri’s was performed first, but Caccini’s was published first. Nothing in those operas or on the new recording is quite the equal of Monteverdi’s music, but it is expressive. If you already know Monteverdi’s Orfeo, it’s worth tracking back just a few years to the two Orpheus and Eurydice operas which preceded it in 1601. Similarly, if you already know Monteverdi’s madrigals, whose own First Book was published in 1587, with development right up to the great Eighth Book (1638), this Caccini collection is well worth getting to know.

Balconi explains in the notes how he deviated from his usual falsettist style to perform this music in a natural tenor voice – partly because Caccini specifically abjures falsetto singing, and partly to overcome an acid reflux which was making falsetto uncomfortable. I found the result attractive, often very attractive, but turning to the earlier Brilliant recording of Odi Euterpe finds both Riccardo Pisani in fuller voice and his more varied instrumental accompaniment more adventurous. More to the point, there’s much more variety of expression to be found in the older recording.

The same contrast is to be found in the two renditions of Amarilli bella, of which we are given two performances on the earlier album, one with vocals, the other purely instrumental. That work may provide the title track of the new CD, with an Amaryllis lily on the cover, but it’s to Pisani and Ensemble Ricercare Antico that I shall continue to turn for preference to hear this piece.

Another collection of music by Caccini and his contemporaries also has a considerable claim on your attention: Firenze 1616 includes music by Saracini, Caccini, Malvezzi and Belli (Alpha 321). Michael Wilkinson thought the performances informed, both musically and historically – review, and I especially enjoyed the Caccini Il Rapimento di Cefalo. That’s the one work not included on the new Brilliant Classics, so it’s complementary to it rather than a direct rival.

Another recording of the music of this period which I’ve referred to, but not reviewed, also merits a mention here. Songs of Orpheus, performed by Karim Sulayman (tenor), Apollo’s Fire and Jeannette Sorrell includes music by Monteverdi and Caccini, together with Merula, Brunelli, Castello, Cima and Landi. Caccini’s Dolcissimo sospiro is the sole item from Le nuove musiche, so there’s minimal overlap with the new Brilliant Classics CD.

This is one of the pieces which Balconi sings especially well, with plenty of emotion in his interpretation. Sulayman and Apollo’s Fire, however, not only give the piece more time to breathe, they also put even more feeling into the interpretation, without overdoing things. In direct comparison, this is the version to have; more to the point, the whole collection on the Orpheus theme is well worth having (AV2383).

So, it’s the new Brilliant Classics album for completeness, but its predecessor provides greater satisfaction. The good news is that it’s possible to buy both for not much more than the price of a single full-price CD, especially if you choose to download – though the bad news is that not all dealers offer the download of the new release, and from those who do, it comes without the booklet. Brilliant Classics used to offer the libretti on their website, but no longer do so: you’ll find just notes and track-listing here. Naxos Music Library, who do provide booklets where possible, didn’t have this recording when I checked.

Brian Wilson

Movetevi a pietà (madrigal)
Queste lagrim’amare (madrigal)
Dolcissimo sospiro (madrigal)
Io parto, amati lumi (aria)
Amor, io parto (madrigal)
Ardi, cor mio (aria)
Non più guerra, pietate! (madrigal)
Perfidissimo volto (madrigal)
Ard’il mio petto misero (aria)
Vedrò ’l mio sol (madrigal)
Fere selvaggie (aria)
Fillide mia (aria)
Amarilli mia bella (madrigal)
Sfogava con le stelle (madrigal)
Fortunato augellino (madrigal)
Udite, udite amanti (aria)
Occh’immortali (aria)
Dovrò dunque morire (madrigal)
Odi euterpe il dolce canto (aria)
Filli, mirando il cielo (madrigal)
Belle rose purpurine (aria)

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