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Diporti villa TC590005
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I Diporti della Villa in ogni Stagione, Venezia 1601
Gruppo Vocale Àrsi & Tèsi/Tony Corradini
rec. 2019, Chiesa di San Michele Arcangelo Sermoneta, Latina, Italy
Texts available on the Tactus website, no translations
TACTUS TC590005 [65:06]

The madrigal was the most popular form of vocal chamber music in the late Renaissance and early Baroque in Italy. From the mid-16th century to the early decades of the 17th century numerous madrigals were written and many of them published, either in editions by a single composer or in anthologies. The latter usually comprised madrigals which were in no way connected. However, there were also collections of madrigals on texts on a specific subject. From the English renaissance we know The Triumphs of Oriana, a collection of madrigals in honour of Queen Elizabeth (1601). The present disc offers another collection of this kind, and also printed in 1601, but then on the subject of the four seasons.

Three people were involved in the creation of this collection. First: the poet. The texts were written by Francesco Bozza, who is called cavaliere in the title, meaning that he was a knight. The translation of the title tells what these poems are about: "The Pastimes of the Villa in Each Season". Bozza apparently wrote a poem in several stanzas on the activities that take place at the countryside, and "about the pastimes and pleasures of living far from the bustle of the city" (booklet). Second: the person who invited composers to set the poems to music. This was Leonardo Sanudo, an aristocrat from one of the oldest families of Venice, and a patron of the arts. The compilation of a collection of madrigals was not new to him: about ten years earlier he invited 29 poets to write a poem in honour of his wife, and then asked 29 composers to set them. This collection was published in 1592 under the title of Il Trionfo di Dori. The publisher was Angelo Gardano, and that is the third person involved in the creation of I Diporti. Venice was a centre of music printing, and Gardano was the most prolific music publisher in the city. It seems likely that these three men knew each other personally and regularly met.

The collection comprises 21 madrigals. It opens with a proem which is followed by twenty madrigals: five for each of the four seasons. All madrigals are for five voices. The composers are called "excellent" in the dedication. However, two of them are little known today. Philippe de Monte is probably the best-known; he was a prolific composer of madrigals (almost 1,200), but little of his output is available on disc. He was of Flemish birth, and for most of his life in the service of the Austrian imperial court. More or less the same goes for Giovanni de Croce: not unknown by name, but his music is seldom performed and recorded. He was born in Choggia in 1557 and moved to Venice around 1570. In 1574 Croce was hired as a boy soprano at St Mark's, and ten years later he published his first collection of music. This was the start of his career, which resulted in his being appointed maestro di cappella of St Mark's in 1603. Between 1591 and 1610 he published fourteen collections of sacred music; compositions of his were also included in anthologies. Croce was active outside the church as well. He was in contact with some of the most powerful families in the city, as the dedications of his editions of secular music show. Ten collections were printed between 1585 and 1607: madrigals, canzonettas and music for carnival.

The two remaining composers can be ranked among the hardly-known. Lelio Bertani was from Brescia, where he worked all his life, for many years as maestro di capella at the Cathedral. Despite this his extant oeuvre consists exclusively of madrigals; one collection includes spiritual madrigals. Ippolito Baccusi was from Mantua; he first worked as an assistant choir director at St Mark's in Venice, but soon moved to Ravenna and then to Verona, where he acted as maestro di capella at the Cathedral from 1592 until his death. He was a prolific composer of sacred and secular music; seven collections of madrigals were printed.

As these motets are not enough to fill a disc, Tony Corradini decided to add madrigals on the same subject by composers of the time. The oldest of them is Orlandus Lassus, who died in 1594. His oeuvre is huge and includes pieces in all genres in vogue in his time. Luca Marenzio has become best-known for his madrigals. He was one of the last representatives of the stile antico, but even so he was considered a model by someone like Monteverdi. Giovanni Maria Nanino worked in Rome in several positions, and sang thirty years as a tenor in the papal choir. He enjoyed a great prestige in Rome and far beyond, and had many pupils. As a composer he is overshadowed by Palestrina. Four books with madrigals were published; the earliest of them has been lost. Rinaldo del Mel was of Flemish birth, but worked for most of his life in Italy. He wrote sacred and secular music, but the latter takes the main part in his oeuvre; fourteen books of madrigals, one of them with spiritual texts, are known. Mogens Pedersøn and Heinrich Schütz were pupils of Giovanni Gabrieli; the former was from Denmark. After his return from Venice he was connected to the Danish court. Two books with madrigals are known; one of them is largely lost. Schütz's madrigals are taken from his only book with such pieces, the first printed edition of his music (1611).

It must not have been very hard to find additional madrigals about the seasons, although most of them are about the spring. That was apparently the most inspiring season for poets and composers alike. What exactly they have to say about the spring, and Bozza about the four seasons, will remain a mystery to those who don't read Italian. A pdf file with the lyrics can be downloaded from the Tactus site, but - as usual - they come without translations. I find that regrettable but it has not spoiled by enjoyment of this recording. In the 1980s, Anthony Rooley, the founder of The Consort of Musicke, once said that he could record a book of Italian madrigals of high quality every week for the rest of his life. With that he wanted to emphasize the sheer amount of madrigals that was written at the time and explain why so little of it has become known. The present disc is a good example, as several composers are hardly known, even though some of them have left a sizeable oeuvre. That makes this disc all the more important. These madrigals show the truth of Rooley's statement: these are very fine pieces, which can be enjoyed because of their musical qualities, even though one cannot follow the connection between music and text.

It is also the performance that is responsible for the impact of this disc. The Gruppo Vocale Àrsi & Tèsi consists of six excellent singers (SSATTB), whose voices blend beautifully and who approach this repertoire with sensitivity and differentiation. I have heard them before, and at that occasion I had some reservations. I am much happier with their performances this time, and I have no problems recommending this disc to every lover of madrigals.

Johan van Veen

Giovanni Maria NANINO (1544-1607)
Chi di gare e rancori [2:01]
[La Primavera]
Giovanni CROCE (1557-1609)
Nella stagion novella (1. parte) [2:12]
Vola di ramo in ramo (2. parte) [1:53]
Lieto fuor de l'ovile (3. parte) [1:43]
Tesson a'lor pastori (4. parte) [1:19]
Vattene pur altiera (5. parte) [2:01]
Lelio BERTANI (c1554-c1624)
E ne la calda estate (1. parte) [1:34]
Un altro a la fresc'ombra (2. parte) [1:47]
Alcuno in chiaro fiume (3. parte) [1:48]
Chi in piccioletta barca (4. parte) [1:51]
Ricca estate e gradita (5. parte) [1:39]
Ippolito BACCUSI (1540-1609)
Poi 'l dolce e bell'autunno (1. parte) [1:58]
Pendon le gemme e l'auro (2. parte) [1:57]
Dolce diporto (3. parte) [2:35]
Scioglier dal pugno (4. parte) [2:17]
Ben sei felice autunno (5. parte) [1:48]
[Il Verno]
Philippe DE MONTE (1521-1603)
Ma non di minor fregio (1. parte) [2:20]
Altri con maggior rischio (2. parte) [2:03]
Alcun nel maggior freddo (3. parte) [2:11]
Ma di fera più bella (4. parte) [1:32]
Ceda ogni altra stagion (5. parte) [0:56]

Giovanni Maria NANINO
Lasso che il caldo estivo [3:34]
Luca MARENZIO (1556-1599)
Già torna a rallegnar [2:51]
Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594)
Un dubbio verno [2:05]
Rinaldo DEL MEL (c1554-c1598)
Felice primavera [2:30]
Mogens PEDERSØN (C1583-1623)
Ecco la primavera [2:30]
Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672)
O primavera (1. parte) (SWV 1) [3:27]
O dolcezze amarissime (2. parte) (SWV 2) [2:39]
Ri(e)de la primavera (SWV 7) [3:58]

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