Lovely performances of fine early seventeenth-century songs.
Interest in Francesca Caccini and her music has deservedly grown a good deal in recent years, in terms of scholarship, public performances and recordings alike. 2009 saw the publication of a major monograph,
Francesca Caccini at the Medici Court: Music and the Circulation of Power, by Suzanne G. Cusick. Gradually, perception of Francesca Caccini has, as it were, liberated her from the shadow of her father Giulio, a process Cusick brings, for the moment, to a fulfilment, providing a fascinating account of Caccini’s life in a male-dominated world. She recounts how Caccini negotiated the particular demands which those circumstances placed upon her, asRead more well describing her considerable achievement as a composer in her own right. Caccini’s fame as a singer has sometimes distracted eyes and ears from her work as a composer. This new CD joins others which have already made available some of her music and it deserves a place of honour in their company.
Shannon Mercer’s recital - which is interspersed with some purely instrumental items - draws on both secular and religious songs from Caccini’s
Il primo libro delle musiche, published in 1618 and dedicated to Cardinal Charles de Medici. The collection is made up of 32 solo songs and four duets for soprano and bass; it contained what was at the time the most sizeable collection of solo songs by a single composer yet to be published. Mercer proves herself to be a very accomplished interpreter of these songs, subtle in expression without ever being merely mannered, her voice having both agility and an attractive weight. Ornamentation feels unforced and apt, the breath-control - Caccini writes some very long phrases - admirable. The instrumental work of Beauséjour, Bergeron and Keesmaat is exemplary, and the four combine so well that one is loath to describe their musical relationship simply in terms of singer and ‘accompanists’.
Caccini’s writing is constantly inventive and she is not frightened to use dissonance and unexpected harmonies expressively. In, for example, ‘Dolce Maria’, a Latin madrigal in praise of the Virgin as Our Lady of Consolation, the relationship of musical phrase to verbal text is perfectly calculated - though it sounds too ‘natural’ for one to be entirely comfortable about the use of a concept like calculation here. The simplicity of the continuo beautiful complements the melismatic passages in the vocal writing. In song after song Caccini’s respect for the phrase patterns of Italian speech is married to a thoroughly musical attention to melody and harmony. Amongst the most memorable pieces are ‘Regina Celi’ which includes some ravishing alleluias. ‘O vive rose’ is sung with splendid vivacity and agility. ‘Lasciatemi qui solo’ is a sustained lament, exquisitely sung by Mercer, in which it isn’t hard to hear affinities with Monteverdi and which serves to remind one that Caccini was the first recorded woman to write operas. In ‘S’io men vò, morirò’, the troubled emotions are very well realised in this performance. There is, though, something unavoidably invidious in selecting individual tracks for praise – the whole is excellent.
The purely instrumental items are equally satisfying: Amanda Keesmaat is foregrounded in a moving performance of ‘Io veggio i campi verdeggiar fecondi’ and Luc Luc Beauséjour plays ‘Te lucis ante terminum’ with pleasing dignity - and without the slightest inappropriate ponderousness. Caccini
père makes an appearance in Sylvain Bergeron’s performance, on baroque guitar, of his own arrangement of four brief songs, under the whimsical title of ‘Quattro Canzoni di mio padre’, as if the arrangement were by Francesca herself! And very pleasant they are too.
Since the 1960s (at least) feminist scholarship and criticism have led to the rediscovery or rehabilitation of many female poets, painters and composers. It isn’t unreasonable to think that in some cases those rediscovered have been as overpraised as they were previously unjustly neglected. The music of Francesca Caccini, however, is one of the most significant treasures to whose worth we have thus been alerted. She was surely a composer on a par, at least, with her father, and is one of the most interesting figures of her age – a contention for which this present CD provides eloquent evidence.
-- Glyn Pursglove, MusicWeb International Read less