Notes and Editorial Reviews
RELIQUIE DI ROMA III: Mortale, che pensi?
Erin Headley, cond; Atalante
NIMBUS 6266 (66:31
Text and Translation)
Cantatas, madrigals, and instrumentals by
L. ROSSI, CARISSIMI, STRADELLA, MAZZOCCHI, LEONE, ANONYMOUS
Reliquie di Roma
is very much a play on words. “Relics of Rome” summons up images of the architecture of the Roman Republic and subsequent Empire, but here it is taken to mean the music played in the 17th-century academies formed in the capitol of the Papal States. It was a time of rediscovery, of Arabic medicine and mathematics, Neo-Platonist theories of the soul, and planetary affinities. It was also a time of artistic experimentation in music, spurred on by studies into Attic Greek modes, with new forms, instruments, and tonal relationships. The Italian States were a trade nexus for Asian, African, and European goods, as well as the center of the one of the world’s most powerful religions, all of which lent a financial and artistic splendor to the many courts of its secular and sacred rulers.
This album provides an attractive sampling of the works that would have been heard at these rulers’ academies (and in a few instances, still exist in manuscripts in the Vatican library). Some of it, such as Luigi Rossi’s
Mortale, che pensi?
L’incendio di Roma
, look back stylistically to the beginning of the century, recalling either Monteverdi’s madrigals or the fluid, ever-shifting expressiveness of the newly developed recitative, with its ability to mirror shifts of emotional degrees. Other pieces are more experimental, such as Marazzoli’s
, its 19-tone octave allowing for pure thirds. (Similar developments were mirrored in some contemporary instruments, of which a few survive, such as an enharmonic virginal by Francesco Poggio currently in the Rodger Mirrey Collection at the University of Edinburgh. It can be heard in a toccata by Michelangelo Rossi on Delphian 34039.) His lament of the Magdalene is striking, its unusual harmonic progressions embedded for dramatic effect next to stretches of more conventional ones, in a monophonic texture.
Erin Headley, who formed Atalante in 2007, did so initially to secure visibility for the repertoire of the lirone. Aside from a few instrumental selections, however, this recording emphasizes vocals, often with fairly simple accompaniment. Five of the six singers receive enough space to prove themselves both technical and expressive masters of this material—by my reckoning, Nadine Balbeisi in Rossi’s
Lamento di Zaida
and Theodora Baka in Marazzoli’s
, in particular. The nine instrumentalists, mostly strings, bowed and plucked, come into their own on four pieces where they display great purity and balance of tone. Here, Bojan ?i?ic’s playing in Leone’s Sonata XXIX is especially to be commended for its beauty and elastic phrasing. Though not featured, Headley’s influence can be felt everywhere as director, in her ensemble that is stylistically informed, and breathes this passionate music as though it were fresh and alive—which in Atalante’s hands and voices, it definitely is. Strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal