Magazine article Gramophone

The Full Monteverdi: Iain Fenlon Examines a Variety of Approaches to the Music of Monteverdi and His Contemporaries

Magazine article Gramophone

The Full Monteverdi: Iain Fenlon Examines a Variety of Approaches to the Music of Monteverdi and His Contemporaries

Article excerpt

Trained at the cathedral in provincial Cremona, Monteverdi was just 17 when he published his book of three-voice canzonette. Designed for the domestic market of amateur performers, its light and airy contents are presented now by Armoniosoincanto in versions elaborated by a constantly changing palette of added instruments. Historically legitimate, this approach also brings necessary variety to these rather slight pieces that stylistically bear few signs of the Monteverdi to come. The cast of female singers produce a well-balanced sound, attractively bright in the upper registers. More controversial perhaps is Francio Radicchia's interpretational style, at times verging on the romantic, which leads to an overblown effect.

The 450th anniversary of Monteverdi's death is certain to bring a wealth of performances of his better-known works in 2017. As a clutch of recent recordings suggests, we can also look forward to some interesting explorations of the music of his less familiar contemporaries. To say that Amante Franzoni was a Monteverdian is to put it mildly. In Mantua, where Monteverdi served the ruling Gonzaga family for the first half of his career, they must have known each other. And when Franzoni was appointed to direct the choir of the ducal chapel of Santa Barbara there in 1612, he evidently became totally fascinated by Monteverdi's sacred music in general, and by the 1610 Mass and Vespers in particular. For the present recording, Francesco Moi has drawn upon two collections of Franzoni's music including the Vespers psalms of 1619 in order to create a varied liturgical sequence that resonates strongly with the influence of Monteverdi's prototype, as well as paying debts to other composers and, above all, to the Venetian tradition of polychoral music. There is even a Sonata sopra Sancta Maria which, like Monteverdi's setting, pits the cantus firmus intonation 'Sancta Maria ora pro nobis' against the richly textured accompaniment of four trombones. The playing of the Concerto Palatino, who come into their own in two instrumental canzoni, is one of the highlights of the recording; there is also some sensitively crafted solo singing, such as the opening of 'Duo seraphim', where two soprano voices create a bright effect like the pealing of bells in reponse to the words 'Sanctus Dominus Deus Saboath'. The interior spaces of Santa Barbara are fully exploited to good effect, and the different areas from the apse to the gallery at the west end clearly differentiated on this imaginative recreation.

Marc' Antonio Mazzone is an even more obscure figure. References in his printed collections suggest strong connections with aristocratic patrons in Naples, but he lived and probably died in Venice. There are also occasional signs of contacts with Mantua. Il primo libro delle canzoni a quattro voci, recorded here for the first time, is dedicated to Monteverdi's patron and employer Vincenzo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua. There is even a foretaste of Monteverdi's famous dictum that the words should be 'the mistress of the harmony' in Mazzone's prefatory remark that 'the body of music is the notes, and the words are the soul'. But there the similarities end. Mazzone's canzoni are essentially dance songs constructed around simple points of imitation, characterised by strong and lively rhythms. …

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