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Giaches de Wert (1535-1596)
Versi d’Amore - Late Madrigals and Canzonette
Voces Suaves
rec. 2021, Landgasthof Riehen, Switzerland
ARCANA A536 [59]

It might appear rather odd that both the inside and out of the cardboard cover of this CD are adorned by buxom nudes of men and women painted by Rubens, but Wert and Rubens (1577-1640) were from the same part of Europe, an area described as Flemish, in the southern Netherlands. The texts of the madrigals recorded here are often about lovers both sad and bad, and the music is often elaborate and expressive, especially as with this disc, we are delving into the more Mannerist world of Wert’s last publications.

The booklet clearly gives us the dates of these last publications- ‘Il primo delle canzonette villanelle’ of 1589, ‘Il nono libro de madrigali’ of 1588, and ‘Il decimo libro de madrigali’ of 1591, and there is one example, the magnificent dialogue madrigal Che fai Alma from the ‘L’undecimo libro de madrigali’, from 1595 – a real masterwork.

 You can therefore see that Wert was prolific. He was in the service of the Gonzagas, based in Mantua, a place with a rich musical heritage. Iain Fenlon, who has written the booklet essay, is an expert on this period; he has written two books on Italian music of the 16th Century, one of which is ‘Music and Patronage in Sixteenth Century Mantua’ (Cambridge 1990). ‘Notes from the Performers’ is a shorter essay written by Dan Dunkelblum, one of two tenors in Voces Suaves, which also comprises three sopranos a counter-tenor, a baritone, a bass and seven instrumentalists playing viols, recorders, a violone, a lute, a theorbo and a baroque guitar, all of which creates a fascinating and highly enjoyable variety of sound and approach. The instruments are used in the context of the lighter madrigals and canzonette; the more serious madrigals such as the Petrarchan sonnet settings are, quite rightly, I feel, performed by voices only. Especially wonderful is the vivid word painting of Mia benigna fortuna. The pieces are shared between the various singers and on two occasions only the upper part is vocal and the rest is instrumental, as in the delightful canzonetta Amor, che Amor con velenoso dardo.

As Wert acknowledged in his preface, he had never before composed anything like these Canzonette. He may have been asked to do so by Leonora de Medici the young Duchess of Mantua; perhaps she was a little fed up with the more serious madrigals Wert was by then producing. Both the voices and instrumentalists of Voces Suaves, who have now been performing together for ten years, have hit upon just the right level of expressivity and arrived at a clear understanding of how to communicate these contrasting pieces, none more so than in the marvellous Monteverdian canzonetta M’ha punto Amor with its vivid juxtapositions and cries of ‘Guerra!’ and, later, ‘Vittoria!’.

There is much, then, to enjoy in this vividly engineered recording and although the booklet font is miniscule it’s good to have the texts with excellent translations. The works chosen by the group are music of the highest standard and I shall look out for Voces Suaves again.

Gary Higginson

Voglia mi vien [2.32]
Un jour je m’en allais [4.17]
 Vago augelletto, che cantando vai [4.45]
De que sirve [2.28]
Mia benigna fortuna e ‘l viver lieto [6.27]
Dica chi vuol, allegro viver voglia [2.06]
Vincenzo Galilei (d.1591) Ricercare [2.55]
Amor, che sai in qual stat’io mi viva [2.33]
M’ha punto Amor con velenosos dardo [3.20]
Quel Rossignol, che si soave piagne [5.48]
Che fai Alma? Dialogo a 7 [3.35]
Datermi pace, o duri mieie pensieri [4.31]
Misera, quanto tempo indarn’ho speso [2.35]
Tu canti e canto anch’io [2.16]
Non mi consosci tu? Eco a 6 [1.48]
Mi parto, ahi sorte ria/Partisti, ahi dura sorte [7.48]

Published: October 26, 2022

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