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Tempesta di passaggi - Solo music for cornetto
I Cavalieri del Cornetto
Andrea Inghisciano (cornetto) María González (organ and harpsichord)
Rec. 2016/18, Pieve di San Martino, Luco (Poggibonsi, Siena), Italy
Reviewed as a stereo 16/44 download with pdf booklet from Outhere
ARCANA A120 [67:41]

The art of ornamentation is one of the basic features of pre-romantic music. It was one of the issues which made a fundamental difference between historical and traditional performance practice in the early days of the revival of early music. The importance of ornamentation manifests itself in the many treatises on this subject which were published from the late 16th century until well into the 18th century. In addition, it was an important subject in treatises of a more general content.

From the mid-16th to the mid-17th century a special kind of ornamentation was particularly popular. It has found its way in a genre known as 'diminutions', in English also called 'divisions' and in Italian 'passaggi'. One of the writers on this subject was Silvestro Ganassi (1492-1550), who stated: "Diminution is nothing other than the variation of a naturally bare and simple sequence of notes". The playing of diminutions - and ornamentation in general - was part of the art of improvisation. However, this art needed to be learned, and this explains the many treatises. The instructions were illuminated by melodic formulas to which several diminutions were added, which readers could study and apply to music of their own choice. Most treatises also included complete sets of diminutions on popular tunes or pre-existing compositions, such as madrigals, chansons and motets.

Diminutions are quite popular among performers, and the present disc is one of many devoted to this genre. As the number of treatises which include examples of diminutions is limited, it can hardly surprise that recordings often include the same pieces. The best-known composers of diminutions are Francesco Rognoni Taeggio, Riccardo Tognoni, Girolamo Dalla Casa and Giovanni Battista Bovicelli. Some pieces were clear favourites among composers of diminutions: Palestrina's madrigal Vestiva i colli, Cipriano de Rore's madrigal Ancor che col partire and Jacobus Clemens non Papa's chanson Frais et gaillard, to mention just a few. Such pieces can be played on different instruments. Here we hear the cornett, but there are also recordings on in particular recorder or violin.

In recent years an interesting development has taken place. Rather than just playing the diminutions included in treatises of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, performers increasingly take these treatises for what they are intended for: instructions on how to improvise diminutions. They take pieces of their own choice and add diminutions of their own making. To what extent they are improvised is hard to say. It seems rather risky to improvise while recording a commercial disc. In most cases they may have prepared their diminutions. However, according to the track-list, the diminutions played here are indeed improvised. That makes them all the more impressive.

Andrea Inghisciano, the cornettist of the ensemble I Cavalieri del Cornetto, has selected three pieces as the subjects of diminutions of his own: the Canzon XVIII by Claudio Merulo, the chanson Oncques amour by Thomas Crecquillon and Il Spiritillo Brando by Andrea Falconieri. The first and the last show that it is not just a vocal piece that can be taken as the subject of diminutions. Basically every musical line in any piece can be used. The performers also play some sonatas by Dario Castello and Giovanni Battista Fontana. They don't belong among the genre of diminutions, but in his liner-notes Inghisciano argues that these are in fact "instrumental songs in which the passages for the canto [the upper voice] are written directly by the composer (...)", which makes them a natural counterpart of the diminutions played here. In these pieces the performers have added other improvised passages at their own discretion. In some pieces the composer added diminutions himself, such as Luzzasco Luzzaschi in his madrigal Aura soave. A particular noteworthy aspect of this recording is that the practice of diminutions is not confined to the upper voice, here the cornett. In several pieces María González plays diminutions of her own on the keyboard (organ and harpsichord).

The programme includes two pieces for one instrument. Andrea Gabrieli was organist at St Mark's in Venice, and has left quite a number of keyboard works. The Canzon francese detta Le Bergier is a specimen of diminutions for keyboard, and here we hear basically the same techniques as in the pieces played on the cornett. Il Dolcimelo is a collection of monodic songs which can be played on all sorts of instruments, put together by Aurelio Virgiliano, and probably published in Bologna in 1600. From this source Inghisciano has taken a ricercata, and it is nice to hear the cornett here on its own.

From every angle this disc is a winner. Not only is the concept quite interesting and a stimulating example of what performers can learn from treatises, the programme is also brilliantly played by these two artists, who deliver compelling performances and show an impressive command of their respective instruments and a thorough understanding of the style of the time.

Johan van Veen

Giovanni Pierluigi DA PALESTRINA (c1525-1594), passaggi: Francesco ROGNONI TAEGGIO (c1585-c1624)
Vestiva i colli [3:35]
Giovanni Battista FONTANA (1571-1630)
Sonata I [4:01]
Dario CASTELLO (1602-1631)
Sonata I a sopran solo (Libro II) [4:31]
Cipriano DE RORE (c1515-1565), passaggi: Riccardo ROGNONI (c1550-?1620)
Ancor che col partire [3:35]
Claudio MERULO (1582-1652), passaggi: Andrea Inghisciano
Canzon XVIII [2:55]
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643) / Annibale GREGORI (?-1633)
Capriccio Fra Jacopino sopra l'Aria di Ruggiero / Ruggiero à un soprano [6:07]
Andrea GABRIELI (1510-1586)
Canzon francese detta Le Bergier [4:26]
Aurelio VIRGILIANO (fl 1600)
Ricercata per flauto, cornetto, violino, traversa e simili in Battaglia [4:43]
Thomas CRECQUILLON (c1505-1557), passaggi: Andrea Inghisciano
Oncques amour [4:35]
Sonata II a sopran solo (Libro II) [5:01]
Adrian WILLAERT (1490-1562), passaggi: Girolamo DALLA CASA (?-1601)
La Rose [5:50]
Jacobus CLEMENS NON PAPA (c1510-c1555), passaggi: Girolamo DALLA CASA
Frais et gaillard [4:49]
Luzzasco LUZZASCHI (1545-1607)
Aura soave [3:01]
Giovanni Battista FONTANA
Sonata IV [5:18]
Cipriano DE RORE, passaggi: Giovanni Battista BOVICELLI (c1550-c1594)
Angelus ad pastores [4:05]
Andrea FALCONIERI (1585-1656), passaggi: Andrea Inghisciano
Il Spiritillo Brando [1:10]

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