Misc. Italian Early Baroque - Cappela Figuralis
Netherland Bach Society
Soloist Ensemble Cappella Figuralis
The central work on this collection of seventeenth century vocal music is Carissimi's Jephte, a 25-minute oratorio, for voices and continuo, that swiftly and powerfully presents the biblical story of the warrior who prepares to sacrifice his daughter, Filla (Anne Grimm), in thanks for his success in battle. The entire group of soloists here achieves a pitch of sadness that takes over the work soon after its imposing beginning and infuses the series of declaimed utterances in which the story unfolds. The question for the potential buyer is whether he or she accepts the current fashion for performing Baroque oratorios with one voice to a part, with the choral sections taken by the united group of soloists. This procedure is more justifiable with Carissimi than it is with Bach, although an observer of the time indicated clearly that he heard the work performed by a group of some 20 singers. (The fact that it might, in a world devastated by war, famine, and plague, have been performed at times by smaller forces does not indicate that this was desired.) Anyhow, this disc by the Netherlands Bach Society and the performance of Jephte by Konrad Junghanel's Cantus Colln are the discs of choice in the current style - the added advantage here is a varied program featuring keyboard music and several "lamentations" that illustrate the sources of Carissimi's dramatic style. The opening Lamento della ninfa of Monteverdi is taken slowly, with a head-on approach to its excruciating dissonances. (There's also a much less well-known lament by Alessandro della Ciaia, a composer from Siena.) The sonic environment of this recording captures the large continuo group (organ, harpsichord, violone, theorbo, and cello) with a startling intimacy, and the long lament of Filla toward the end of Jephte, with its echo effects, is haunting indeed. An all-Carissimi disc by John Eliot Gardiner with his Monteverdi Choir can be sampled by listeners interested in comparing the present approach with one that assumes a greater degree of contrast between solo and chorus.
All Music Guide
If this CD contained only its last 24 minutes - Carissimi's Historia di Jepthe - it still would rank as one of the most beautiful musical experiences of the year. The fact that there's another 49 minutes of glorious music - laments by Monteverdi, Mazzocchi, and the practically unknown Della Ciaia, as well as toccatas for solo harpsichord, lute, and organ by Frescobaldi, Kapsberger, and Michelangelo Rossi, respectively, make it invaluable.
Starting at the end, the Carissimi is amazing: sung in Latin, it concerns Jepthe's oath to God that if he is victorious in battle he will sacrifice the first person he sees upon his return. As usual with this gimmick, it's a relative - his daughter - and the daughter laments that she will die a virgin, with no children to mourn her. The Lament itself - "Weep ye hills, be sorrowful ye mountains, and cry out with the suffering of my heart", is devastatingly sad, with the solo (the amazingly tearful Anne Grimm) echoed at the end of each line by a pair of distant soprano voices. It's gorgeous-no wonder a contemporary of Carissimi's wrote that "he could turn the emotions of his audience in whatever direction he chose." The Rossi organ toccata that precedes it is notable for its weird descending cascades of notes. Della Ciaia's Lament features the Virgin Mary and a chorus of angels - Johannette Zomer's solo is as ravishingly moving as the angels are sympathetic. Kapsberger's Lute Toccata is a mellow piece, virtuosic nonetheless.
The Monteverdi Lament della Ninfa (from 1638) that begins the disc is openly dramatic, with the nymph (soprano Zomer again) bemoaning the loss of her beloved to another; three male voices act as chorus and comment sadly. The dissonances and chromatic flights here and sprinkled throughout the other works would make Gesualdo sit up, amazed. Frescobaldi's harpsichord toccata is a showy piece, as brief as it is entertaining. And finally, Mazzocchi's Lamento di David is a dramatic work, complete with narrator and dialogue, using eight voices both as solos and in choral passages. The solos are the dramatic personae; the two choruses - one female, one male - lament.
The performances by the singers and four continuo players (organ, harpsichord, violone, therobo, and cello) are perfect in every way. This Dutch group, led by Jos van Veldhoven, has managed to enter the Italian emotional sensibility as no English consort can touch. The acoustic is both intimate and rich.
-Robert Levine (www.classicstoday.com/review.asp?ReviewNum=5259)
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Love & Lament
From the beginning of the 17th century, composers in Italy and far beyond its borders discovered the dramatic power of small ensembles, for the most part abandoning the traditional a cappella polyphonic style. The richness of verbal language pointed the way to new modes of expression. Monody played a central role in this development: in essence, it consisted of a single singing voice accompanied by the new style of 'basso continuo'. The text was supported and followed word by word, making use of the 'affetti', a new freedom in the treatment of dissonance as well as sharply contrasting melodic and rhythmic treatments. Of course, any number of new musical forms and genres also developed, one of which was the dialogue - a genre which has repeatedly been given attention by Cappella Figuralis in recent years - and its more expansive version, the oratorio. A dialogue can best be described as a sung conversation, in which each of the persons taking part is represented by a single voice, and a group by a vocal ensemble. In addition, the 'cast' sometimes includes a narrator, whose part can be either single-voiced or many-voiced.
Since the characters in a dialogue, just as in opera, speak in the 'present time', the genre could have a strongly religious and/or didactic function: stories from the past could be brought into the present in this way, abstract ideas could be represented in a concrete scene. The genre came into being in northern Italy at the beginning of the 17th century and spread over nearly the whole of the peninsula. The number of voices usually ranged from two to five with continuo, sometimes enriched with two violins parts. In Rome, there was a certain preference for double choruses, sometimes with an added solo voice for the principal character; Delia Ciaia's Lamentatio is a beautiful example of this. It was particularly in Rome that oratorio underwent a notable development, associated with names like that of the Mazzocchi brothers, Marazolli, Luigi Rossi, and of course Carissimi. A treasure-trove of dialogues by Italians both known and unknown has survived; those of the lesser masters are often of surprisingly high quality.
The oldest dialogue composition on this CD, however, comes from a composer who is far from unknown: the Lamento della Ninfa of Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) which was published in his eighth book of madrigals, the Madngali guerrieri ed amorosi, of 1638. The text is based on a poem by Rinuccini, which Monteverdi has set in a short dramatic scene (he himself calls the style 'stile rappresentativo', the theatrical style): the lament of a shepherdess is framed, as in a Greek tragedy, by a 'chorus' of three men's voices. They sing the prologue and epilogue: a nymph laments the loss of her beloved. The actual lamento is constructed as a passacaglia, in which a descending bass line of four notes - a traditional lamenting motive - is repeated thirty-four times. Above this, the nymph sings intensely expressive melodies, filled with strange turns of phrase and frequently sharply dissonant with the immovable bass line; according to Monteverdi, she is not meant to sing strictly in tempo, but entirely according to her emotions. A strange tension is built up between the nymph and her three commentating men's voices, who sympathize with her but never assume the pathetic style of her singing. They give the listener an objective background against which the emotions of the soprano are thrown into even sharper relief.
In 1664, Domenico Mazzocchi (1592-1665) published his Sacrae concer-tationes, after a break of over 18 years during which he had published nothing of his own composition. Mazzocchi, infact, only wrote a small quantity of religious music; the bulk of his oeuvre lies in the area of secular vocal music (including opera), which is remarkable, given that he himself was a priest. No doubt he was anxious, so near his own death, to clear his conscience by means of this musical testament. His dialogues, such as the Lamento di David, the story of how David learned of the death of Saul and his son Jonathan from the beginning of the second book of Samuel, certainly bear comparison with those of his fellow-citizen Giacomo Carissimi. The lamento itself is sung by two four-voice choruses, one of which symbolizes the men (two tenors, two basses) and the other the women (three sopranos and an alto).
Alessandro Delia Ciaia (C.1605-C.1670) was a Sienese nobleman who composed music as an amateur, or 'dilettante'. In this manner, he seems to have been in no hurry to publish his three opus numbers; a collection of madrigals (1636), a book with lamenti and motets for voice and continuo (1650), and finally the Sacri modulatus (1666). The quality of his music however, betrays not the slightest degree of amateurism, but rather demonstrates that Delia Ciaia was a fully capable and original composer both of expert polyphony and expressive solo writing. Nowhere is this clearer than in the climax of his last collection, the Lamentatio Virginis in depositione Filii de cruce ('Lament of the Virgin [Mary] at the deposition from the Cross of her Son'). As a whole it cannot be considered a true dialogue, but is rather an extended lament by Mary, introduced by a duet and commented on by a chorus of angels, the latter being set as an eight-voiced double chorus in the Roman style; the text includes a number of unmistakable allusions to the text of the Stabat Mater. Delia Ciaia achieves a beautiful conclusion by having Mary, who has passed through a series of extremely contrasted emotional states, finish with a particularly telling call to lamentation ('plange coelum, plange terra'), which is taken over by the concluding angelic choir in an almost Mozartean manner.
Giacomo Carissimi (1605-1674) spent his entire working life in Rome. He was famed in his day for his complete mastery of musical 'rhetoric'; a contemporary wrote that he 'could turn the emotions of his audience in whatever direction he chose'. He composed a large number of motets, masses, and -characteristically for the secular atmosphere of Rome in the baroque period - no fewer than one hundred and fifty secular cantatas. His fifteen oratorios, in contrast, were only a small part of Carissimi's extensive oeuvre. They were written for performances during Lent in the Oratorio del San Crocifisso, where 'connoisseurs' of the upper classes who preferred Latin to the vernacular came to listen. Carissimi's oratorios, then, are truly music for the connoisseur, and the master-piece of them all, the Historia di Jephte (1650) was already famous during his lifetime. It is based on the story of Jephtha (Judges II), who promises to God that he will sacrifice the first being he meets upon his return home if he is victorious in battle against the Ammonites. His wish is fulfilled, but upon his return, it is his only child, his daughter, who is the first to greet him. She is obedient to her fate, and in a heart rending lament ('plorate colles') she bewails her misfortune; the baroque-echo-technique, in which key words at the ends of sentences are repeated by a distant voice, acquires great emotional power here because it is set for two sopranos - an extremely original device within such an emotionally expressive monody. The emotional power of this lamento is, however, actually surpassed by the subsequent six-voiced closing chorus 'Plorate filii Israel', whose complex harmonies and intense dissonance became a generally admired model of polyphonic lament for a whole century (up to and including the time of Handel, who made use of it in his own 'Jephtha').
The toccata was developed by Roman lutenists and harpsichordists into a sort of instrumental answer to the vocal monody: we encounter a similarly free use of dissonance and the same freedom of rhythm and melody; the lack of a text is compensated by instrumental virtuosity. The past master of this technique was Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643), the organist of St. Peter's Cathedral, whose fifty toccatas bear witness to his untrammelled imagination. The toccata on this recording survives in a manuscript of c. 1650, containing a collection of music from Frescobaldi's last years, including three harpsichord toccatas. The Toccata Seconda is an extended composition, with the composer's characteristic written-out trills, contrasting 'affetti', alternation between free and more imitative sections, strong rhythmic contrasts, and an obstinate motive to conclude. In some respects it already points forward in time to the toccatas of Froberger, who studied with Frescobaldi from 1637-1641. For a long time, it was thought that Michelangelo Rossi (1602-1656), a Genovese, was also a student of Frescobaldi, but it is now known that they were actually competitors. Rossi, who had lived in Rome since 1624 and was known primarily as a composer of madrigals and operas, and as a violinist (!), published a collection of Toccate e correnti in 1640 for harpsichord or organ. The toccatas are notable for their original, sometimes almost manneristic character. The famous Toccata settima is constructed on a tightly dramatic plan, with a section in slow 'durezze' at the center. This is preceded, after some introductory passage work, by a section with descending thirds, and the second half consists of a section in flowing sixteenth-notes, and finally, in extreme contrast, a page of unbelievable chromaticism which explores and then deliberately violates the limits of mean-tone tuning. In the same year as Rossi's toccatas, the Libro quarto di chitarrone of another Roman resident, the lute virtuoso Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger (c.1580-1651) was published. He was German in origin but grew up in Venice. In 1605 he settled in Rome, where, in addition to vocal monodies, he published a series of lute and chitarrone books. Kapsberger, with his works for chitarrone, laid the foundation for a rich 17th century tradition. The Toccata settima from Kaps-berger's last chitarrone book of 1640 expertly makes use of the specific abilities of the chitarrone (harmonic effects, passagework even over the bass strings, chains of dissonances).
- David Shapiro (translation)