Since the 19th century sacred and secular music went their separate
ways almost completely. That has partly to do with the fact that there
were and are today many composers who choose to contribute to one
genre or the other rather than both. That was pretty much unthinkable
before the French Revolution. Many composers were equally at home
in both departments and basically treated them similarly. Bach reused
music from his secular cantatas for sacred works and in the early
17th century Monteverdi turned his Lamento d'Arianna into the
Pianto della Madonna. The use of the same musical forms in
sacred and secular music was quite common, although the ecclesiastical
authorities often expressed their dismay about this practice. It made
little difference as the large repertoire shows.
This disc offers some striking examples of sacred pieces which can
only be distinguished from secular music through their texts. They
were not written for liturgical use, as indicated by the fact that
they all set Italian texts. The exception is Sances's setting of the
Stabat mater, which is taken from a collection which was printed
under the title of Motetti. Even so, pieces like that were
probably performed in private surroundings rather than in church.
Some pieces take the form of a canzonetta, which was quite
popular in the 17th century. It is the more light-hearted counterpart
of the aria and the cantata. Pieces such as the anonymous Follia
del mondo and Vana Bergamasca belong in this category.
Especially interesting is Madre non mi far monaca. It is a
kind of folksong about a girl who urges her mother not to send her
to a convent. This sheds light on a phenomenon of the time: many families
could pay the dowry for only one of their daughters. The others were
sent to a convent. This song shows that this situation didn't meet
with unanimous approval. The tune was often used for variations, for
instance by Frescobaldi who even took it as the cantus firmus
of a Mass.
The content of canzonettas isn't always light-hearted. That goes in
particular for the Canzonetta spirituale sopra alla nanna by
Tarquinio Merula. This piece has become quite popular and has been
recorded several times. It is a lullaby in which Mary talks to her
baby son. However, there are many dark intimations as she refers to
what is going to happen to him. That element is becomes increasingly
dominant during the course of this work. It creates an interesting
dichotomy of happiness and sorrow. Raquel Andueza brings about the
increasing intensity and darkness quite well.
That piece is entirely based on a basso ostinato, a repeated
figure in the bass which was very popular at the time and is one of
the features of the repertoire on this disc. In this case the bass
pattern comprises just two notes. I have already mentioned the Vana
Bergamasca; its title refers to a bass pattern which was often
used, the Bergamasca. This and Merula's canzonetta show that
the basso ostinato could also be found in the lighter genres.
Completely different in character is the last piece of the programme,
the Cantata spirituale by Benedetto Ferrari. This is about
the suffering which goes with the love for God. It is divided into
four parts, and is entirely based on a descending tetrachord. That
is also the foundation for the Stabat mater by Sances, another
piece which is regularly performed and recorded.
This fact is one of the disappointments of this disc. Most of the
pieces, including the largest, have been recorded before and are even
pretty well-known. Lesser-known is the Lamento della Maddalena
which is here attributed to Monteverdi. However, that is incorrect:
this is an anonymous arrangement of Monteverdi's Pianto della Madonna.
This arrangement was recently recorded by Les Cris de Paris (review).
In my review I regretted that they didn't perform it as it has been
passed down in manuscript but the performance has more depth than
the interpretation by Raquel Andueza. I really like her voice and
I have written a positive review
about her recording of 'Alfabeto songs', but I feel that most of the
repertoire on this disc is not her cup of tea.
I very much love this kind of music but it was hard to maintain my
concentration. Ms Andueza's singing reminds me of Emma Kirkby's forays
into Italian repertoire. It is all beautifully sung, but something
essential is missing. Her voice seems to lack the necessary depth
and the dark colours. The canzonettas are done pretty well, and even
Merula's lullaby comes off reasonably successfully. However, in the
Lamento della Maddalena and also in the pieces by Sances and
Ferrari she fails to explore the depth of the emotions which they
express. There are dynamic contrasts, but I didn’t hear a true
messa di voce, an essential element in the performance of this
repertoire. Ferrari's cantata offers many opportunities to use it.
There is also far too little ornamentation, which isn't only a way
to bring variation into a piece but is also at the service of expression.
Ms Andueza is too strict in her treatment of rhythm: she should have
taken more freedom which is needful when it comes to the 17th-century
ideal of recitar cantando.
While listening I once again admired the way composers set the texts
to music. I also appreciated the singing and playing of these artists
as such. However, these interpretations never touched me, I never
felt emotionally involved. That is pretty disastrous, because that
is what this music is all about.
Johan van Veen
Vana Bergamasca [2:38]
Tarquinio MERULA (1594-1665)
Canzonetta spirituale sopra alla nanna [8:23]
Domenico MAZZOCCHI (1592-1665)
S'io mio parto [3:52]
Madre, non mi far monaca [3:32]
Lamento della Maddalena (after Claudio Monteverdi) [10:00]
Follia del mondo [2:02]
Giovanni Felice SANCES (c1600-1679)
Stabat mater (Pianto della Madonna) [11:18]
Spagnoletto dishonorato [2:24]
Amar a dios por dios [2:55]
Benedetto FERRARI (1603/04-1681)
Cantata spirituale [15:16]