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Il gioco della cieca
Concerto di Margherita
rec. 2019, Auditorium 'Achille Salvucci', Museo Diocesano, Molfetta (Bari), Italy
Reviewed as a stereo 16/44 download with pdf booklet from Outhere ARCANA A498 
The publication of the song collection Nuove Musiche by Giulio Caccini in 1602 was a landmark in music history. It was the first time songs with a basso continuo part were published. The ideal of Caccini was a performance by a musico like himself: a singer who accompanied himself, preferably on the chitarrone. This was in fact a practice that was very common in the 16th century, and was to disappear in the course of the 17th century. In this respect there was nothing new in Caccini's song book. The disc reviewed here takes this ideal as its starting point. We get a selection of madrigals by Italian composers from the decades around 1600 which are performed in various combinations of voices and instruments. A particular feature of the ensemble is that all members sing and play an instrument at the same time, according to Caccini's ideal.
The Concerto di Margherita takes a famous group of singers of the late 16th century as its model, known as the Concerto delle Dame, connected to the court of Ferrara. They either sang madrigals that were originally written for them or pieces that were adapted for their particular way of performing. These singers also accompanied themselves as an ensemble, and that is something which is probably not or very seldom practised in our time. "Their collaborative concerting creates not just a kaleidoscopic soundscape of distinct and blending string instruments and voices, but also both planned and improvised coordination between instrument and voice (both single-performer and collective) that is truly unique", Andrew Dell'Antonio writes in his liner-notes. He then explains how the ensemble proceeded in the preparation for the performance and recording of the selected pieces. "For each work on this recording, one member of Concerto di Margherita took primary responsibility for an approach to concerting that would suit the potential of the musical score, the affetti that the ensemble should convey through their interpretation, and the particular expressive skills of each performer."
The programme opens with a cycle of four madrigals by Giovanni Giacomo Gastoldi who was from 1588 until his death in 1609 maestro di cappella in Mantua. In this cycle the performers have divided the texture into different scorings, from two voices to the entire ensemble. Each singer also plays an instrument, sometimes separately, sometimes together. The text is taken from Giovan Battista Guarini's Il pastor fido, and so is the text set by Giaches de Wert - Gastoldi's predecessor in Mantua - as the cycle O primavera gioventù de l'anno, which is performed the same way.
There are also other ways to perform madrigals, as is demonstrated here. Andrea Gabrieli's O belli e vaghi pizzi is performed twice: first in an instrumental version made by Francesca Benetti, who sings and plays the theorbo and the guitar in the ensemble, and then in a vocal version without instruments. Wert's Cara la vita mia is also performed twice: first the original version, and then diminutions played on the viola da gamba in a style known as alla bastarda, which means that the player does not confine him/herself to the playing of diminutions to one line - usually the upper part - but includes the entire piece in his/her treatment. In Wert's Chi mi fura il ben mio? the viola da gamba also participates, this time taking care of one of the parts, substituting for a voice.
It is a bit of a shame that this recording is so short. The fact that this disc lasts less than 47 minutes may prevent lovers of this repertoire purchasing it. That would be a pity, as this recording not only offers an insight into the various ways of performing madrigals with voices and instruments, some of which are highly unusual, but also includes some fine music. One would also miss the excellent singing and playing of Concerto Scirocco. I am very much looking forward to future recordings of this ensemble. It is to be hoped that their approach to the madrigal repertoire will set an example for other performers to look for more varied approaches to this kind of music.
Contents Giovanni Giacomo GASTOLDI (1554-1609)
Cieco Amor non ti cred'io [3:51] Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Dolci miei sospiri (SV 242) [3:46] Giovanni GABRIELI (1557-1612)
Canzon I à 5 (C 195) [2:29] Giovanni Girolamo KAPSPERGER (1580-1651)
S'io sospiro e s'io piango [2:33]
Veri diletti qua giù non regnano [1:05] Giaches DE WERT (1535-1596)
Chi mi fura il ben mio? [3:11]
Cara la vita mia e gl'è pur vero [2:51]
Cara la vita mia e gl'è pur vero (diminutions Giovanna Baviera) [2:54] Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643)
Canzona III à 2 [4:11] Sigismondo D'INDIA (c1582-1629)
Occhi de' miei desiri e d'amor nidi [2:11] Andrea GABRIELI (1533-1585)
O belli e vaghi pizzi (instr version by Francesca Benetti) [2:42]
O belli e vaghi pizzi [3:02] Sigismondo D'INDIA
Occhi belli, occhi sereni [1:59] Giaches DE WERT
O primavera gioventù de l'anno [8:56]