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Gioco della cieca A498
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Il Gioco della Cieca
Concierto di Margherita
rec. 2019, Auditorium “Achille Salvucci”, Museo Diocesano, Molfetta (Bari) Italy
ARCANA A498 [46.16]

The pictures in the CD booklet give the game away; we see several of the musicians playing in costume, a guitar, harp or viol and singing at the same time and this is the philosophy behind how the group Concierto di Margherita, founded in 2014, presents this early baroque music. They believe, quite rightly, that at that time musicians did exactly that, but for many modern-day classical musicians the idea might well seem impossible – not, however, it is worth saying, in the pop world.

I am quite sure that the performances offer a really lively and vital interpretation of this repertoire and the essay by Andrew Dell’ Antonio entitled ‘Newly nuanced listening’ indicates as much. What it seems to give is a stronger immediacy to the performances.

In the early years of the seventeenth century the all-female ‘Concerto delle dame’ was supported by Margherita Gonzaga, last Duchess of Ferrara and it is she who gives the group their name, but here, men, too, are included, adding to the women’s virtuosity and enabling madrigals to be performed in many more parts.

Another unusual factor is that each of the performers decides on the interpretation and presentation of each piece. As an example, theorbo and guitar player Francesca Benetti’s approach to Andrea Gabrieli’s madrigal O belli e vaghi pizzi was finalised, after some experimentation, as first an instrumental performance and secondly a vocal one by the same musicians, the first, as it were, informing and influencing the second. It means that each of the recorded ten pieces is realised in a slightly different way. It seems that Wert’s Cara la vita mia is a madrigal which they have especially experimented with “the most times over, investigating multiple permutations of scoring in search of subtle facets of affetti”. This word can be thought of as a translation of human emotions through the voice and gesture. The result is extraordinarily expressive, with a rapport audible through subtle tempo changes and dynamics which becomes even clearer via repeated hearings. The vocal performance is followed by a version with divisions for viola da gamba accompanied by theorbo and harp using a technique called ‘alla bastarda’ - that is, skipping from line to line.

The same instrumental combination plays canzone by Giovanni Gabrieli and Frescobaldi. Possibly keyboard works, these come colourfully and delightfully to life as each line is allotted a different instrumental timbre which, as the booklet says, makes us aware of “the affetti potential in the musical shapes and textures”.

However, I wouldn’t want to forget the balance and beauty of the voices and it’s good to hear them, a cappella, in d’India’s Occhi de’ miei desiri.

There are more details I could elaborate on, for example, how the texts are inspired by that famous poetic collection ‘Il pastor fido’ by Guarini and the significance of Caccini’s 1602 publication ‘Le nuove musiche’, but it is best, now, to let the music and performances speak for themselves.

These performances are fascinating and the concept behind them produces outstanding results; however, I feel disappointed by well under an hour of music. Given that the group has so many new ideas and its consequent fresh approach, it is a great pity that a few more pieces could not have added. However, all texts are given in Italian, French and English and there are several colour photographs of the musicians.

Gary Higginson

Giovanni Giacomo GASTOLDI (1554-1609) Cieco amor non ti cred’io [3.51]
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643) Dolci miei sospiri [3.46]
Giovanni GABRIELI (1557-1612) Canzon prima à cinque [2.29]
Giovanni Girolamo KAPSBERGER (1580-1651) Si’o sospiro s’io piango [2.33]
KAPSBERGER: Veri diletti qua giù non regnano [1.05]
Giaches de WERT (1535-1596) Chi mi fura il ben mia? [3.11]; Cara la vita mia e gl’è pur vero (voices) [2.51]; Cara la vita mia e gl’è pur vero (instrumental) [2.54]
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643) Canzona terza à 2 [4.11]
Sigismondo d’INDIA (1582-1629) Occhi de’ miei desiri e d’amor nidi [ 2.11]
Andrea GABRIELI (1533-1585) O belli e vaghi pizzi (instrumental) [2.42];, O belli e vaghi pizzi (vocal) [3.02]
D’INDIA: Occhi belli, occhi sereni [1.59]
WERT: O primavera, gioventù de l’anno [8.15]

Francesca Benetti (theorbo, baroque guitar, voice); Tanja Vogrin (arpa doppia, voice); Giovanna Baviera (viola da gamba, voice); Rui Stahelin (Renaissance lute, theorbo, voice); Ricardo Leitão Pedro (Renaissance lute, baroque guitar, voice)

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