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Bellerofonte Castaldi: Battaglia d'amore Reviews

Castaldi CD Cover

Early Music America: This fine new release includes songs of love with Bellerofonte Castaldi's settings of his own poetry and virtuoso duos for theorbo and tiorbino (published in Modena in 1622 and in Venice in 1623). The lyrics of this period are raw, emotional, direct, and sometimes passionate to the extreme. They match the twisting columns and surging full-blown draperies of the dramatic sculpture and paintings of early 17th-century Italian Baroque art. However, the classical influences of the Renaissance and Mannerist periods were not totally done away with. There is an element of restraint that holds the performer in check. True, the lyrics swing wildly through all the human emotions, and the music descriptively carries the power of these texts, but in the end propriety still carries the day in that the paroxysm of emotion is rarely reached.

This new recording as internalized all of the above and presents it to the listener's ears with a direct and intimate sound that is highly charged with anticipation. The CD contains 16 songs for tenor and/or soprano (lyrics by the composer) and four instrumental pieces. Of these four works, three are duos for therobo and tiorbino and one is a harpsichord composition entitled "Canzon quinta detta Bellerofonte," penned by Frescobaldi. This keyboard piece is preserved only in manuscript and is receiving its first recording, beautifully played by Neil Cockburn on an Italian instrument built by Gianpaolo Plozner (A=440, 1/6 comma meantone). The performers on this disc are internationally known masters in their respective fields and most have been published; the collaboration includes artists from Italy, the U.S., Scotland, and Canada. Careful thought has gone into the choice of repertoire, programming, placement of the microphones, preparation and rehearsal of this disc, and the five voices (three sopranos and two tenors) utilized. From the outset we are treated to a concert from this "free-spirit" composer as he might have presented it. Castaldi (1580-1649) is all but unknown in our own day. It seems he was something of a lone-wolf in his own, so his reputation is still in eclipse and undervalued. Original Italian and English translations of the song texts are included with these world premier recordings, along with a fine in-depth essay by David Dolata, associate professor at Florida International University, entitled, "Bellerofonte Castaldi: Composer, Lutenist, Poet and Adventurer." This disc is an excellent introduction to a long-lost Italian artistic genius and a highly polished project worthy of your attention. -Paul-James Dwyer

Lute News: Castaldi was a true renaissance man, a virtuoso lutenist, poet, composer and engraver, not to mention satirist and adventurer. This CD includes fifteen of Castaldi's settings of his own poetry, some of them recorded here for the first time; three duets for tiorbino and theorbo, and for good measure Frescobaldi's keyboard piece 'Canzon Quinta detta Bellerofonte' also receiving its first recorded performance.

The majority of the songs are performed by Fagotto, an accomplished but very ltalianate singer. I found his earthy, in-yourface manner of delivery and pronounced vibrato when climaxing on the longer notes overwhelming at times but this may of course have been exactly how Castaldi would have expected his songs to be performed rather than in the refined English choirboy style we are accustomed to over here. The way in which Fagotto negotiates the florid ornamentation in ' Pili non vi miro' and 'Occhi Belli' is quite stunning but he also brings tenderness to the more reflective numbers such as 'Felice e contento'. He is joined by Zinutti in a rousing performance of 'Quanto che tanto' with its lively fa la refrain. The two Italian sopranos, Fabris and Corrieri adopt a similar approach albeit in a slightly more restrained manner. The duet 'O Clorida vaga e gentile' makes an exhilarating start to the programme and they divide the honours equally in 'Fuor di noia', each of them tackling the elborate passage work in alternate verses. The virtuosity of the Italians is more than equally matched by the Canadian (?) - soprano Janet Youngdahl who negotiates the stratosphere with ease in the Echo aria- in which the repetition of the last two syllables of the final word of each stanza cleverly alters the meaning of the words. In 'Lo sdegno' and 'Pieno di bellezze' she emphasises the ge,~<-'t1eness and light-hearted mood of the words. It is interesting to'.ge able to compare the different approach and vocal characteristicsof singers of different nationalities.

The three duets for theorbo and tiorbino, 'Quagliotta canzone', 'Capriccio detto hermafrodito' and 'Capriccio di battaglia' are charming. Castaldi delighted in giving his pieces picturesque titles which are reflected in one way or another in the music. In the notes the contrapuntal entries in the Quagliotta canzone are likened to the mother quail stepping out followed by her chicks which seems an apt description of the way the music develops. The hermafrodito of the capriccio may refer to the classical statue 'The sleeping hermaphrodite' discovered in 1610 and displayed in Rome with which Castaldi may well have been familiar. All are beautifully performed 'by Dolata and Coelho with · crisp sense of rhythm, neat passage work, beautifully clear contrapuntaJ lines and nicely judged contrasts in dynamics.

Castaldi is a fascinating figure both as a man.and a musician and in spite of a few reservations about the singing, I think the disc creates a vivid portrait of one of the most talented composers of the early 17th century. - Monica Hall

Société Française du Luth (translated from the original French): A true Renaissance man, Bellerofonte Castaldi was at the same time a poet, satirist, engraver, adventurer, lute virtuoso, and composer.  The majority of the song texts on this CD were written by him and, notwithstanding the vivacity of the melodies, they often evoke disappointed love, anger, or rejection.   Add to this his talent as a chronicler, thanks to which we know well the story of his breathtaking life which crossed paths with Monteverdi and Frescobaldi, as well as all of northern Italy’s high artistic, political, and religious society.  So here we discover inordinately rich songs, published in 1623, with figured bass for lute or harpsichord, a late Italian Renaissance treasure chest providing irrefutable testimony to the art of early baroque melodic accompaniment.   These songs are interspersed with some of the famous duos for theorbo and tiorbino from Capricci a due stromenti (1622), often featuring virtuosic writing for this unique and brilliant musical combination. 

This disc, quite varied, offers us thousands of vocal and instrumental colors typical of the era: teeming with plucked strings in different tessituras (without bowed bass) for basso continuo, songs for soloist or duos, echoes, recitatives, dance songs… We can barely take it all in.  The theorbos, tiorbinos, and other archlutes improvise introductions, ritornellos, and luminous countermelodies, all well supported by the bass (ah, the theorbo’s 16-foot!).  The tenor G. P. Fagotto, his voice as his name is like a bassoon: its timbre, brilliance, and theatricality indispensible to this music; the sopranos respond like two nightingales in a Modenese garden… The songs often have the same freshness, the same melodic richness, the same dancelike rhythms that we easily recognize in Caccini.  Here we can also find grand ornamented recitatives, virtuosic, suave, and sensual like Felice e contento and Porterà’l sol, where the bass descends bit by bit beneath the tenor’s sustained notes … The most spectacular songs of this recording are without doubt the Echo for two sopranos, each with its own theorbo or archlute, and the last great tenor aria: Amor colei, with an impressive tessitura, and accompanied by a particularly rich basso continuo.  In the duos for theorbo and tiorbino (Quagliotta canzone, Capriccio detto hermafrodito, Capriccio di battaglia a due stromenti), the language changes, it becomes clearly more instrumental, more rigorous, more contrapuntal; thanks to the two instruments an immense tessitura is covered (the 16-foot to the 4-foot on an organ), but with great neatness, due to the simple strings of the instruments and the musicians’ care for clarity.  The writing for these pieces is truly exciting: imitations, tumbling parallel tenths, contrary motion, classic canzona themes, little solo sections for each instrument… But, the final bouquet is indisputably reserved for Battaglia, judiciously placed at the end of the disc, an imposing work of nearly fifteen minutes where we have the world premier recording! If the piece begins in a rather tranquil fashion, it soon evolves into something stunning and incredibly inventive, similar to certain passages that recall those of Falconiero or Merula*: huge arpeggios; responses; echoes; modulations; thirds; trumpet, fife, and drum effects; daring passages; and minor drones… Real fireworks! - Pascale Bouquet

*See also the  Battaglia de FalconierolMerula recording for lute quartet by the Luths Consort (Cd SFL 0802)

International Record Review: ...Dolata and Coelho are sure-figured and refined lutenists. Their greatest test, passed very successfully, is the monumental Capriccio di battaglia... the sopranos...whose pure, flexible voices are heard in two duets, O Clorida and Fuor di noia. Fabris also sings one delicious solo, O crudel amor... The instrumental accompaniment for all the songs is superb. The theorbo’s clear, deep, saturated tones make it well suited for accompanying the voice, but the continuo is further enriched by the addition of a second theorbo, the tiorbino, an archlute and a harpsi- chord in different combinations, providing inventive and sensitive figured bass realisations.”

Cd Classico:
Bravissimi dunque i cantanti protagonisti - Gabriele Formenti

L'Informazione (Bologna – translated from the original Italian):

Sunday 24 July 2011

A Classic by Chiara Sirk

It’s titled Battaglia d’amore, a CD that collects the vocal and instrumental music of Bellerofonte Castaldi, released by the London label Toccata Classics (distributed in Italy by Ducale). Born in Collegara, near Modena, Castaldi was a writer, musician, composer, and artist who exemplified the Renaissance intellectual. A curious eclectic man, he was also a troublemaker, often in flight or in jail, but during the period in which he lived, he was considered to be an artist of the highest caliber. To remind us of all this, we have a studious American musician, musicologist, and university professor who discovered Castaldi’s life, death (1649), and a great deal of music. His name is David Dolata, and in the CD he presents the music of the Modenese [Castaldi], and in the booklet tells us of Castaldi’s vicissitudes and genius. He explains how Castaldi can be thought of as a modern singer-songwriter, a sort of Renaissance Bob Dylan, because, unlike his contemporaries, he preferred to write his own texts for his songs. We discover that in his writings Castaldi marveled at a singer he referred to as “Pavarotto gentil,” who may have been the ancestor of the beloved late Luciano. David Dolata and Victor Coelho perform several of the nine duets for theorbo and tiorbino, all full of pyrotechnical effects. The vocal selections sung by Gian Paolo Fagotto, Janet Youngdahl, Laura Fabris, Eugenia Corriere, and Claudio Zinutti, are impeccable from a technical point of view. Almost all of the pieces are premiere recordings. The disc was made possible through the generous support of various American universities, the Province of Pordenone, and the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Udine e Pordenone, but without the participation of Modena, the composer’s hometown.


He even created a new instrument, the tiorbino, smaller than the theorbo, tuned an octave higher.


Early Music:

The crop of plucked-string recordings considered here all come from the second half of the lute’s golden age, from the turn of the 17th century to the middle of the 18th. We may call this the Baroque era, but the life of Bellerofonte Castaldi fulfils all the stereotypes of the larger-than-life ‘Renaissance man’. Not only lute composer and musician, but also poet, artist and engraver, he seems to have invented the tiorbino, a little octave theorbo; his colourful private life included numerous spells in prison, and a vendetta which left him with a bullet lodged in his foot. On Bellerofonte Castaldi: Battaglia d’amore (Toccata Classics tocc 0081, rec 2006, 77!) the group Il Furioso and four singers record songs with Castaldi’s own lyrics from his Primo Mazzetto (1623) and an extant Modenese manuscript, plus three theorbo and tiorbino duets from his Capricci (1622); many of these works are première recordings. This mainly vocal disc makes a lovely complement to the recent Castaldi instrumental disc by Vincent Dumestre’s Poème Harmonique. Castaldi’s vocal oeuvre includes ornamented monodies, charming triple-time strophic songs and duets, and a striking echo song—accompanied here with harpsichord, theorbo and tiorbino, taking just a few modest liberties in adding ritornellos and instrumental verses. All the singing is good full-blooded ‘early opera’ style, without excessive vibrato; Castaldi’s instruction that the men’s songs should be sung by tenors, not falsetti, is respected. The disc concludes with a remarkable Capriccio di battaglia, programme music which encompasses a wide range of moods, curiously echoing in places both Terzi’s canzona for four lutes and Valdarrabano’s Discantar sobre un punto. The music passes the early music equivalent of the ‘old grey whistle test’—it makes you want to go out and get the scores, and perform the music with friends. This is a charming disc which deserves to sit alongside Monteverdi, Marini et al. in one’s collection. - Christopher Goodwin


Fanfare Magazine:

CASTALDI Battaglia d’amore FRESCOBALDI Canzon quinta detta Bellerofonte David Dolata, cond; Gian Paolo Fagotto (ten); Il Furioso (period instruments) TOCCATA CLASSICS 0081 (76:33 &)

There can be no doubt that Bellerfonte Castaldi (1580-1649) was one of the most colorful and well liked figures of his age, even though he is hardly a household name today. The back cover of this disc claims that he was “the Bob Dylan of his day,” meaning that he had a popular accessible musical style and wrote his own lyrics. That is as may be, but there can be no doubt that he was an eccentric character. He was named after a mythological figure, primarily because his father grew tired of misaddressed mail, and since he was from a rather well-off family he hardly had to suffer economic difficulties during his lifetime. This allowed him to dabble in virtually all artistic fields, and he purposely sought out both poets and musicians of his time, entering into extensive correspondence. Claudio Monteverdi, Ottavio Rinuccini, Gianbattista Marino, Girolamo Frescobaldi, Orazio Vecchi, and Giovanni Kapsberger were counted among his personal friends, and he spent time in various cities throughout Italy outside his hometown of Modena. This included a pied-à-terre in Venice, where he finally retired at the age of 63 in 1643. He was convivial and self-deprecating, at one point shortly before his death lamenting that he could not go on vacation to the Alps because “a belly full of lasagna had made him so enormously fat,” according to the excellent booklet notes by David Dolata. In short, he was probably a person anyone would love to meet, though he was not without his demons; it would seem that he was co-conspirator in the murder of the scion of the powerful Pepoli family. This and other “infractions” made him have a close acquaintance with the insides of a prison more than once.
            As a lute player, Castaldi composed mainly for his instruments, the theorbo and tiorbino, the latter a smaller version of the former and pitched higher. The tiorbino in particular is an instrument that never really was much in fashion, and Castaldi seems to have been the principal composer for it (though of course it had uses as part of the continuo group). It is therefore note surprising to note that his duets, which he himself apparently described as “tobacco and wine,” have been recorded previously. Back in 1998 a selection, including several vocal works, was done on Alpha by Le Poem Harmonique, while Diana Pelagatti released a disc of his lute capriccios on Tactus three years later. The Love Letters are also available on Bella Music with Giovanni Cantarini and Il Vero Modo from 2007 following yet another disc of the capriccios by the Lautten Compagney on New Classical Adventure the previous year. This would indicate that there is a fair amount of Castaldi out there, so he is not exactly unknown to discography, but this program brings another perspective, with ten songs from the Primo Mazzetto of 1623 and several works from his instrumental capriccios. Finally, Il Furioso has chosen to include the peripatetic Canzona quinta detta Bellerofonte by Frescobaldi, a piece for harpsichord that possibly reflects their friendship and collaboration. Of these, only two seem to have been recorded previously.
            In terms of musical style Castaldi is very much aware of the more lyrical Roman style that was developing, even as the newer monodic style was running its course. He has a lovely sense of rhythm that emphasizes the linguistic flow. For example, “O Clorinda” is a lyrical duet in parallel thirds, with the odd insertion of dissonance whenever a momentary discussion of the fading of youth appears. In the lengthy two-part “Echo” madrigal, the voice is pure monody, with a fading background echo on the last part of each phrase, and in the second part there is even a second echo that makes it seem positively cavernous. In “Quella altera” a very nice almost syllabic wandering line is like an early Baroque rap, with strummed single lute chords that highlights the perpetual motion of the verses. When one actually reads the stanzas about an ice queen, then the lilting line becomes more like a pointed whine, beautifully formulated. The instrumental works are exquisitely detailed, with the final piece, the battle duet between the theorbo and tiorbino, nothing less than a sort of Baroque dueling banjos, replete with marching rhythms, echo effects, and virtuoso moments.
            Dolata’s group, Il Furioso, performs this disc with skill and sensitivity. Sopranos Laura Fabris, Janet Youngdahl, and Eugenia Corrieri are all spot on in terms of pitch and blend well, while Gian Paolo Fagotto provides a powerful and secure foil in his pieces. The accompaniment of Victor Coelho and Dolata can be nicely subdued, giving the vocal numbers a Troubadour quality, but in their solos they truly shine. For those interested in an alternative world to Monteverdi or the beginnings of the Venetian style, this is an indispensable disc. Bertil van Boer


Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger: Secondo libro d'arie Reviews

Kapsberger CD Cover

Gramophone: Of German descent, Giovanni Kapsberger was born in Italy and established himself as a central musical figure in Rome in the early 1600s, transforming the profile of the theorbo as a solo instrument and composing works for both the Sistine Chapel and Urban VIII’s papal chambers. For all the evidence of an accomplished rhetorical imagination in the second book of arias from 1623 (through a coherent survey of penitence and redemptive compassion in the madrigali spirituali vein), Il Furioso’s “first recording” reveals a figure torn between syllabic simplicity and the vanities of early Baroque ornament, through deeply felt melismatic airs and lighter idioms.

Victor Coelho puts a fairly strong case for this music, though I cannot pretend that Kapsberger’s vocal writing achieves much beyond the generic; even the best masters of monody require something very special in current performance to reach out to listeners beyond the expert or curious enthusiast. Only the tenor, Gian Paolo Fagotto, seems to carry the text beyond the confines of what can often appear little more than meandering musings. Even so, there are some attractive canzonettas and the final duet Perché pietà (which Coelho describes in hyperbole as an “extravagant, bleeding vocal toccata”) is economically pleasing. The theorbo playing is often imaginative and occasionally prosaic. In sum, a cautious foray for all but the true aficionado. - Jonathan Freeman-Attwood

Goldberg Magazine: Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger is today best known for his extraordinary compositions for solo lute and theorbo. The usually adventurous harmonic language, coupled with rhythmic inventions of a most creative sort, constitutes the basis of some of the most unique music of the period. However, Kapsberger’s musical output included much more than writing for the lute family of instruments - madrigals, solo arias, motets, strophic villanelles, instrumental dances, sinfonie, Masses, and stage works also feature in the composer’s rich musical output. Il Furioso, under the leadership of Victor Coelho, presents us with nearly all of Kapsberger’s Libro Secondo (1626), a publication of arias set to spiritual texts, and several theorbo solos found in various contemporary collections. The CD features some first-class singing, especially from the group’s tenor, Gian Paolo Faggoto. Tu dormi displays a notable sensitivity to the sentiment of the text and a remarkable ease of ornamentation. Perche pieta, a soprano-bass duet sung by Janet Youngdahl and Paul Grindlay, is likewise worth noting for the exceptional virtuosity displayed by the two singers. The continuo section of the group, comprised of theorbo, archlute, and harpsichord, provide a very nice support even though a greater variety of sound colour would be welcome. The solo theorbo pieces demonstrate considerable musical maturity and skills on the instrument by both Victor Coelho and David Dolata; Kapsberger’s Corrente and an anonymous Toccata are particularly charming. Overall, this polished and pleasurable recording is a welcome reminder of the musical versatility of one of the 17th century’s most original composers. - Zak Ozmo

MusicWeb-International: When do you think baroque music, as we now call it, actually started? A daft question you might say but what about 1605, the date of Monteverdi’s 5th Book of madrigals? Why? The book starts in what is known as the style antico but by the end we have come ‘up to date’. Instrumental parts like the basso continuo become obligatory for the last six pieces. Gradually in his remaining books the idea of an aria being accompanied by written out instrumental sections becomes standard. There’s only a fine line that separates Arias as here from Madrigals. By 1623, the date of Kapsberger’s book, recorded here, this format was fairly commonplace - on the continent anyway. With one voice or possibly two, more dramatic word-setting is possible. Kapsberger’s vocal music has been little acclaimed but his lute music is available on disc. This disc undoubtedly helps to redress the balance.

Who was Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger? His biography can be briefly summed up as of German extraction but born in Venice. He was one of the most successful musicians of his generation, both as a performer on the lute and theorbo and as composer. He ended up working for Pope Urban VIII in Rome. His output covers all genres including Mass settings. His reputation waned after his death and has remained in obscurity until relatively recent times.

Kapsberger’s style is mostly highly ornamental and recitativic, demanding vocal agility and virtuosity of his performers. In addition he requires that very rare creature, a basso profundo. We have one here in the shape of the Canadian Paul Grindley. This singer opens the disc and at first my heart sank at what I felt was too doleful a tone. However it didn’t take me long to ‘acclimatise’ and indeed really enjoy his contribution. Of the sopranos I rather prefer the lighter Julie Harris who, sadly, is only allocated three works here. Generally speaking I like the singers who capture the challenges and beauties convincingly. The instrumental work is, I feel, exemplary and I like the subtle changes of instrumentation within the arias, especially the sometimes sudden removal of the harpsichord leaving the archlute dramatically alone.
The excellent booklet essay by Victor Coelho, who also leads the group Il Furioso points out that the vocal items as recorded can be divided into three sections as follows: Tracks 1-7 (texts spoken by God to the sinner), tracks 8-12 (The lamenting Magdalene), tracks 13-19, (Moses and other voices of the prophets). He also explains that this is not the way the ‘arias’ were presented in the original publication. Indeed the entire book has not been recorded: five pieces are missing. A curious anomaly, you might think, especially as the disc runs in at less than an hour. However Coelho explains that he wanted to record "those pieces which stand out from a musical and literally stand-point". Also he wanted "to record all of the duets and also works which offered technical challenges, especially textual ones".

And what texts too! Kapsberger tackles some difficult, thought-provoking and yes, deeply philosophical poems by men of the calibre of Petrarch. Others are by lesser-known figures, Gabriello Chiabrera (1619) and Giambattista Marino (1614). An example of the mood of the words can be summed up in ‘Tu dormi’: "You sleep, my soul/You sleep, alas, and don’t hear God’s high and just words / How will you suffer, cruel heart / Who in vain calls one who is dying for you". Especially striking is the last aria, a duet, with its everlasting cry of "Why are my long suffering / And my fervent prayers / Denied mercy?"

Variety is achieved within the disc by first having a different voice or group of voices perform each song and secondly by interspersing the vocal items with contemporary solo lute pieces - a very happy mix.

I would like to congratulate Toccata as this is as good a recording of early music as I have ever heard. The small instrumental group are widely, but naturally, spaced across the stereo picture, superbly balanced and wonderfully clear. The vocalists are placed centre-stage. The bass notes ring out with true ambience, and the theorbo and archlute are recorded intimately so that every note is clear, but not unnaturally so.

It’s true that this music is a curious by-way of the early baroque. Nevertheless Kapsberger is worth investigating and I think that he should rank as an especially significant figure. Let’s hope for more. - Gary Higginson

Music Week: Victor Coelho’s baroque ensemble lives up to its name in this sparky world premiere recording of Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger’s thrilling Second Book of Arias. ll Furioso’s rock’n’roll approach, energised by Gian Paolo Fagotto’s ballsy singing and superb recorded sound,lifts these 17th – century songs of joy and sorrow from the page with irresistible force. - Andrew Stewart Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger (1580-1651) was perhaps one of the true originals of the Italian Baroque, and although he is best known today for his eccentric and highly effective lute and chitarrone music (the popular Toccata arpeggiata being but one example), this new disc from the enterprising Toccata Classics label shows him to be equally adventurous when composing for the voice.

Kapsberger’s "Libro secondo d’arie" (1623), recorded here almost in its entirety (only five items having been omitted) and for the first time, contains settings of spiritual texts that largely deal with repentance and loss. Il Furioso’s director Victor Coelho has organised the selection into three sections ('God and the Sinner'; 'the lamenting Mary Magdalene'; and 'Moses and other voices'), interspersed with solos for theorbo by Kaspberger, Bellerofonte Castaldi and assorted anonymous composers. The various styles range from highly melismatic arie in the Monteverdian vein, through more loosely structured, toccata-like duets and stile rappresentivo settings, to more simple, dance-like canzonette.

Overall the performances from the vocalists are excellent, though at one end of the satisfaction scale tenor Gian Paolo Fagotto’s fluent negotiation of Kapsberger’s florid ornamentation is a marvel, while at the other an intrusive vibrato from many of the singers does tend to get in the way of one’s enjoyment a little. All three instrumentalists play with delicacy and grace, Coelho’s theorbo solos in particular showing off his attractive tone and finely-judged rhythmic shading.

Whether or not you subscribe to the Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher’s seeing in Kapsberger a worthy successor to Monteverdi, this is a welcome and enjoyable release that not only has intrinsic value but helps us further to round out our musical picture of early 17th-century Rome. The recorded sound is warm and intimate; however I found the spatial arrangements (harpsichord in the centre and plucked instruments on either side) a little too self-contained and artificial. Coelho’s booklet note is, however, beyond criticism, and texts and translations are included. - William Yeoman

All Music Guide: A sea change occurred in music between 1584, when Palestrina wrote his Shostakovich-like renunciation of secular music in a dedication to Pope Gregory XIII ("I blush and grieve to think," he wrote, that he had been one of the composers who wrote spiritually lowly madrigals of love), and 1623, when Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger (an Italian, despite the German name) wrote the spiritual solo madrigals that make up the Libro Secondo d'arie. Yet political and musical changes don't always go hand in hand, and the severe ideals of the Catholic Counter Reformation still carried plenty of weight as Kapsberger created these works for the Pope-producing Barberini family. Musically these are pieces in the Monteverdi recitative style, extended in a few intriguing directions by Kapsberger. What makes them unusual are the texts. You might call them anti-love songs, written to texts by Petrarch, Giambattista Marino, and other major poets of the era. The speakers in the texts are various: Mary Magdalene, Moses, Christ, or the Lord in a dialogue with the sinner's soul. The theme running throughout, however, is that of the rejection of the sphere of human love. Sample track 6, Pargoletto son io (I am a child), with its innovative structure of interlocking dual sections. "The spirit I have in my heart despises this false god, the futile richness of love," sings the human soul aspiring to the divine. Some of the songs, however, could be read as either secular or sacred -- sample track 10, T'inaspiri a miei lamenti (You become embittered by my laments), which could have come straight out of one of the later books of Monteverdi's secular madrigals. The overall impression is that the deployment of operatic devices in the service of Lutheran devotion that one associates with Bach has its ultimate roots in the earliest Baroque, and in the Catholic sphere to boot. Thus, the mainly Canadian group Il Furioso deserves credit for bringing this little-known music to light; Kapsberger has been known mostly to lutenists. The singers, however, only intermittently achieve the virtuosity this music demands -- Kapsberger's vocal music was written, in the words of one commentator, for "the best singers in all Italy." It is particularly soprano Janet Youngdahl, a singer with roots in medieval music, that is problematic -- sample one of the tracks on which she appears (tracks 3 and 6 are the first two) to see whether her style appeals to you. She often runs through a phrase almost baldly, with no vibrato, and then drops precipitously onto one of the complex ornaments at the phrase's end. Tenor Gian Paolo Fagotto is more powerful, but it may be that the strongest benefit of this release is that it might interest Rinaldo Alessandrini or one of the other musicians who has been revolutionizing Monteverdi performance in these very unusual mixtures of sacred and secular ideas. - James Manheim


Société Française du Luth (translated from the original French): “In this disc, the piety of the counterreformation and the expressive theatricality of Italian monody are indistinctly intermingled.”

That is perhaps what makes this disc so varied, not to mention the wealth of instrumentation with such a large role given to plucked strings!  Alternating with songs (very ornamented for the tenor, rather measured for the soprano), Victor’s theorbo offers us a Corrente by Kapsberger with a double at times arpeggiated and very brisk, then David presents a sonata from 1622 by the famed Castaldi.  Their playing is well matched: clear and sharp, with balanced phrases devoid of superficial effects.  In the continuo, they are well complemented by the harpsichord’s gravity and serenity.  The variety of colors perfectly serve the program’s more operatic works, such as the tenor’s almost Monteverdian  Tu dormi.  Theatrical also, the opposition between the dance-like Pargoletto son io, a soprano aria of innocence lost, and the long tenor aria I’vo piangendo (on Petrarch’s text, as are many of the madrigals on this disc).  The recording is organized around texts and themes corresponding to different personages, such as God and the sinner, Magdalene, Moses, and others.  A little later, Mary Magdalene’s suffering is incarnated by the dissonances and modulations accompanying the soprano, which, from tension to relaxation portrays the passage from torment to relief.  The vocal duos on this disc are equally quite interesting: a rather homophonic soprano-bass duo (They ornament together simultaneously), or the soprano duo in response to a thoroughly springtime theme….  The bass singer offers us some tragic airs “To have mercy on he who is dying,” where his lightly trembling timbre could depict emotion and fragility.  Aside from the pieces for theorbo, we have a quite simple (in two voices, of narrow tessitura) anonymous Roman Canzona in the typical long-short-short rhythm, then the celebrated Monica, from the same manuscript, even and regular, and finally a Toccata that develops the same chord at great length, descending from bass note to bass note, and concluding with a short fugato.  Castaldi reappears afterwards, with the Mustazzin corrente, where a roaming theme passes from low to high, to end in an almost impulsive fashion.  The disc ends with a duo featuring an extremely wide range between the bass and soprano, illustrating the most profound mercy granted to humanity.

A disc that illustrates human weaknesses and passions, served by warm voices and eminent theorbists/musicologists, yet simple and sincere.  To discover. - Pascale Bouquet


Fanfare Magazine:

KAPSBERGER Libro secondo d’arie (1623) Victor Coelho, cond; Janet Youngdahl (sop); Julie Harris (sop); Gian Paolo Fagotto (ten); Paul Grindlay (bs); Il Furioso (period instruments) Ÿ TOCCATA CLASSICS 0027 (54:07 &)

In 1623 Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger published his Libro secondo, a set of rather severe moralistic texts that seem at odds with the often frivolous and human subjects of other arias of the time. Interspersed at extra material are instrumental odds and ends; a rather nicely flowing Corrente by the composer, an anonymous canzona, toccata, and lute song transcription entitled “La Monica,” and two works by Bellerofonte Castaldi, whose music I review elsewhere in this issue. Each of these interludes is only a couple of minutes at the most and serve to separate the vocal sections of the print. Since all of them are rather more melodically active, they set off the conservative monodic arias.
            The meditative nature of the poetry was probably the result of Kapsberger’s new allegiance to the Barberini family, one of whom was appointed about this time as Pope Urban VIII.  Although the Papal court was somewhat secularized, with the lutenist composer writing operas and various instrumental dances, he was also focused upon a more austere sacred music. In 1631 he published the Missæ Urbanæ, a set of Masses dedicated to his patron that were almost certainly performed in the Sistine Chapel, as well as a Jesuit opera on saints Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier. Kapsberger chose a deliberately conservative style for these pieces, with accompaniment limited to chords above a voice that moves with the appropriate florid ornamentation. On occasion, there is considerable sensitivity, as in the number “O come in van credei,” in which a sepulchral bass, descending to its lowest register, proclaims the futility of pleasure, moving at the end to bitter tears. In “Popol diletto mio,” a distraught Moses admonishes his flock for their iniquities, with the tenor becoming more agitated rhythmically as he outlines their ingratitude.  In “T’inaspiri a miei lamenti,” the soprano and bass weave a gentle duet around the subject of love’s cruelty, as if both male and female participants have experienced a mutual pain (which of course they have). The following pastoral “Dunque con stile” has the two innocent shepherdesses begins with a light dance-like duet, but as each of the verses explores the fleeting beauty of youth, the lines expand, reuniting in the moralistic final verse.
            The recording by Il Furioso is particularly effective. Paul Grindlay’s bass is sonorous and powerful, the two sopranos, Janet Youngdahl and Julie Harris, clear and precise, and Gian Paolo Fagotto’s tenor decisive with an excellent sense of the period style and ornamentation. The accompaniment by David Dolata, Victor Coelho, and Neil Cockburn is tasteful and with the variations of chordal accompaniments in the arias that keep things moving forward without sacrificing the important contemplative textual meaning that Kapsberger needs to emerge. In short, this is one recording that anyone interested in Roman music of the early 17th century must have. It is a sensitive, resonant, and effective collection that demonstrates the musical genius of the composer. Bertil van Boer