1.2 We are thankfully past the era in which
the search for "authenticity" necessitated a slavish adherence to the
printed page. Yet, with this single broad claim, the King's Noyse opens
up for itself an almost unlimited repertoire, in which the choices made
for any given performance arewith a whiff of scholarly legitimacyrestrained
solely by the imagination. Nor has this approach necessarily pointed The
King's Noyse in the wrong direction. In The King's Delight, for
example, the practice of publishing broadside ballads with only the names
of tunes encourages today's performers to be particularly resourceful
in matching tune to text. This apparent flexibility between instrumental
and vocal forms is also explored with great success in Canzonetta,
where an adroit mixture of the two also serves to expel any monotony that
might arise from the uniform sonorities of the violin band.
2.2 The contemplative mood explored between the Trabaci bookends seems to reflect the performers' aesthetic choice: a result both of the repertoire selected and the style of performance employed, that seems curiously at odds with their own characterization of fiddlers and fiddle music. The introspection is laudable, for example, in the Peri monodies sung expressively with beautiful tone and careful attention to poetic detail by Ellen Hargis. Andrew Lawrence-King's continuo support on the harp is highly nuanced and likewise sensitive to text and tonal ambiguities, and he deftly employs a variety of articulations that beautifully enhance Hargis' thoughtful interpretations, as in the richly ironic performance of Peri's "Qual cadavero spirante." Yet the tendency to back away from climaxes and favor softer dynamics accentuates the meditative, even stoic aspects of these works, at the expense of a more robust sensuality that would certainly not have been foreign in seventeenth-century Italy. The charming ritornello in Peri's lighthearted "Un dì soletto," for example, provides an ideal opportunity for a more brazen, visceral sort of playing; here, however, the lover's impetuous desire for the young woman is restrained by the quiet dynamics and gentle, intentionally-blurred articulations.
2.3 The selections from Gasparo Zanetti's
Il scolaro are among the moments of pure, unabashed enthusiasm;
yet, they choose to conclude this boisterous set with the sober "Il cefarino," performed on solo harp. (note 3)
One might also wish for greater vigor and athleticism in the numerous
gagliarde on this album; there is a humorous side, for example,
to the delightfully chromatic contribution by the perennially-shocking
Gesualdo that could well be exploited to advantage at a less sedate tempo.
Indeed, many of these performances seem to reflect a tendency for the
performers to lose themselves in the luxuriant experience of moving from
one lush sonority to another, a practice that tends to be more gratifying
for the performer than the listener. This is particularly evident in the
nearly thirteen minutes allotted for Farina's "Pavana seconda," in which
the unvarying sonorities, dynamics, and lugubrious tempo create an ambiance
more appropriate for meditation in the New Age than a stately dance at
court. Notably, this is not the case with Dario Castello's "Sonata XVI
a 4," a work composed specifically for a string ensemble, in which the
varied texturesincluding the surprising "battaglia in genere concitato"
noted by Massimo Ossi in the program bookletelicit a dynamic and
compelling performance. Indeed, one begins to suspect that the most successful
performances on this CD result from those works subject to less generic
cross-breeding and arranging.
3.2 This is not the only instance in which the music of Monteverdi is appropriated under questionable circumstances. Tracks two and three of the CD feature Andrew Lawrence-King's performance of a Gagliarda by Giovanni dell'Arpa, followed, without break, by what Ossi describes diplomatically as a "re-texting" of Monteverdi's famous "Vi ricorda o boschi ombrosa" from Orfeo. These works do seem to form a natural pair based on shared melodic and rhythmic features; Lawrence-King accentuates this link by concluding the dell'Arpa in improvisitory fashion with a series of circular repetitions of the opening phrase, whose descending pattern provides the impetus for the opening of the Monteverdi. Hargis' performance of the Monteverdi is exciting and compelling, and Monteverdi's well-known ritornello is played with an appropriately joyful affect. For those who may have lamented the relative silence of Euridice in Monteverdi's first opera, there is something enormously refreshing about hearing the eloquent outpouring of this most accomplished mythic male musician sung by a woman; one rejoices that Monteverdi would have seen fit to recycle this delightful melody using a poem by Ottavio Rinuccini, one of his happiest collaborators. (note 7) It is thus all the more disconcerting to discover that this retexting has no basis in the sources. Beginning with the dell'Arpa gagliarda, the King's Noyse has created for the listener an artificial "musical experience," entirely of their own invention.
3.3 Again, this practice is not entirely
unjustifiable; retextings of works was a common enough practice among
composers of this and other periods, and seventeenth-century performers
may well have been perfectly at ease manipulating the available sources
to suit their fancy, without the constraints of scholarship or accountability.
Nonetheless, it is curious that the King's Noyse would have chosen for
this purpose works by Claudio Monteverdi, the best-known and perhaps greatest
composer of the seventeenth-century, andmore importantlyexcerpts
that are intrinsically linked to their original dramatic and musical contexts.
One wonders if these peculiar appropriations were motivated by historical
or interpretive forethought. Were these alterations thought to enhance
the originals or add deeper layers of meaning to the lesser known works?
Does The King's Noyse intend this as a bold demonstration of the flexibility
of violin band practice, their inherent right, as Ashworth had suggested,
to "help themselves to all the riches of the repertoire," including those
of the inestimable Claudio Monteverdi? Or, as this reviewer suspects,
were they persuaded to graft together compositions or substitute a text
merely because the parts seemed to fit together so well? Regardless, without
complete disclosure, it is the CD-buying public that is all the poorer,
misled by the illusion of historical authenticity.
Return to beginning
1. Jack Ashworth, CD booklet, The King's Delight,
Harmonia Mundi (HMU 907101). It is this observation, regrettably, that
leads Ashworth to make the all too-easy analogy between violin band players
and contemporary rock musicians and country musicians, with whom the "early
fiddlers undoubtedly would have felt kinship" (p. 8). The painting to
which Ashworth refers, showing a sixteenth-century couple dancing la
volta, is housed in the museum at Rennes, and reproduced in David
Boyden, History of the Violin and Violin Playing from its Origins to
1761 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965).
Return to text
2. Jack Ashworth, CD booklet, Canzonetta,
Harmonia Mundi (HMU 901727), p. 6.
Return to text
3. Massimo Ossi, Program booklet, Stravaganze,
Harmonia Mundi HMU 901759, (p. 7), correctly points out the unreliability
of the attributions in Zanetti's collection; this should have been noted
in the contents list, which is all too sparing with details on sources
Return to text
4. Giovanni Rovetta, Madrigali concertilibro
primo: Opera seconda (Venice: Magni, 1629). An abridged facsimile
version is included in Italian Secular Song, 1601-1636, vol. 7,
ed. Gary Tomlinson (New York: Garland, 1986), pp. 74-83.
Return to text
5. On seventeenth-century laments, see Ellen Rosand,
"The Descending Tetrachord: An Emblem of Lament" Musical Quarterly
65 (1979), pp. 346-59 and Opera in Seventeenth-Century Venice (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1991), pp. 361-86. A more conventional
strophic lament might certainly invite the addition of a ritornello; in
through-composed recitative laments, instrumental ritornelli are sometimes
used sparingly to heighten the dramatic intensity at special moments.
See, for example, Barbara Strozzi's "Sul Radon severo: Il lamento" in
which an adagio ritornello appears several times, yet is restricted to
the lyrical central section of the lament (Barbara Strozzi, Cantate,
ariette, e duetti, op. 2 [Venice: Gardano, 1651], 35-43; a facsimile
edition is included in Strozzi, Cantatas, ed. Ellen Rosand, vol.
5, Italian Cantata in the Seventeenth-Century [New York: Garland
Press, 1986], p. 39).
Return to text
6. It is noteworthy, however, that Monteverdi published
this work repeatedly without the choral interruptions. Nicholas Harnoncourt
dealt with this issue creatively some twenty years ago by separating the
sections of the lament with string arrangements based on the five-part
madrigal version of the lament. (Cathy Berberian Sings Monteverdi,
Concentus Musicus Wien, dir. Nikolaus Harnoncourt. [Telefunken 6.41956
AW]. I am grateful to Massimo Ossi for pointing this out to me.)
Return to text
7. On Euridice's silence in Orfeo, see Susan McClary, "Constructions of Gender in Monteverdi's Dramatic Music," Feminine
Endings (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), pp. 42-4.
Return to text
The Harmonia Mundi releases by The King's Noyse
include: The King's Delight: Seventeenth-century ballads for violin
band and voice (HMU 901701) and Canzonetta: sixteenth-century canzoni
and instrumental dances (HMU 907101), both featuring Ellen Hargis and
Paul O'Dette; Mascherada: Music at the Bückeburg Court of
Ernst III (HMU 907165) and Lamentations, Motets and String Music (Music of Thomas Tallis), directed by Paul Hillier and David Douglass
(HMU 901754) (cf. "Briefly Noted, below).
Return to text
Contents of CD:
Return to text
Giovanni Maria Trabaci (1575-1647), Gagliarda terza sopra la mantoana
Giovanni Leonarda Dell'Arpa (1525-1602), Gagliarda
Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) Non ha'l ciel cotanti lumi
Jacopo Peri (1561-1633), Qual cadavero spirante
Carlo Farina (?1600-?1640), Pavana seconda
Filippo Vitali (1590-1653), Se pur è ver
Gasparo Zanetti (fl 1626-45), from Il Scolaro (1645): Aria del gran duca, Gagliarda di Santino detto la muzza, La bergamesca, Basso delle ninfe, Bassa gioiosa, Il cefarino
Don Giovanni Maria Sabino (late 16th cent.-1649), Gagliarda Falsa
Giovanni Rovetta (?1595-1668), La lagrime d'Erminia (with sinfonia/ritornello by Monteverdi)
Dario Castello (fl early 17th cent.), from Sonata concertate . . .libro secondo (1629): Sonata XVI a 4
Jacopo Peri, O durezza di ferro
Carlo Gesualdo (?1561-1613), Gagliarda
Jacopo Peri, Un dì, soletto
Giovanni Maria Trabaci, Gagliarda prima detta La galante, Consonanze stravaganti.
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