Thursday 20 November 2014

The Medici Castrato

The Medici Castrato - Raffaello Pe - Glossa
The Medici Castrato; Raffaels Pe, Chiara Granata, David Miller; Glossa
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 18 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Imaginative look at the music from the career of the castrato who sang in Monteverdi's Orfeo

The chances are that you have never heard of Gualberto Magli, but he was the castrato who took part in the premiere of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo. A pupil of Giulio Caccini, Magli spent most of his life in the service of the Medici in Florence. This imaginative new disc on the Glossa label uses his career as a peg to hang some very fine performances of 17th century music. Counter-tenor Raffale Pe, with harpist Chiara Granata and theorbo player David Miller, take us on a journey from Monteverdi's Mantua and Caccini's Florence, to Naples and Brandenburg, with music by Monteverdi, Caccini, Sigismondo d'India, Francesco Lambardi, Giovanni Maria Trabaci, Girolamo Montesardo, Alessandro Ciccolini, and Johann Nauwach.

Gualberto Magli was a pupil of Giulio Caccini, and as such had access to the group known as the Camertata Fiorentini which came up with the idea of sung speech (recitar cantando) and the dramma in musica which became opera. From 1604 Magli was in the service of the Medici in Florence, and in 1607 Magli was lent by his employer, to Duke Francesco Gonzaga in Mantua for the premiere of Monteverdi's favola in musica, L'Orfeo. We know from the correspondence between the Duke and his brother (Cardinal Ferdinando) that Magli found learning the music difficult. In 1611 he was sent by the Medici to Naples to improve his skills at the harp, an instrument which he would have played whilst singing. On his return to Florence, things must have turned sour at some point because in 1615 he left Florence to enter the service of Elector Johann Sigismund of Brandenburg, but does not seem to have spent much time there. Magli then disappears from the record, till his death in 1625 in his native Florence.

The counter-tenor Raffaele Pe is someone whom I have enjoyed live (see my review of his 2014 performance with Oxford Baroque). On this disc he, Chiara Granata and David Miller have assembled a lovely programme which imaginatively links to Magli's life. Not every piece is directly associated with Magli, we do not have enough information for that, but the artists have come up with a programme which successfully evokes the type of music which Magli would have sung.

They start with Monteverdi's L'Orfeo in which Magli definitely sang the roles of Musica and Proserpina, but probably Speranza as well. Here Pe sings Musica's prologue, Speranza's solo from Act III and Proserpina's from Act IV, linked by instrumental interludes based on other material in the opera. Pe has a very direct, 'speaking voice' which combines plangent tone with a strong feeling for the text. His account of the Monteverdi very much creates sung speech and the results are brilliant.

Amarilli mia bella by Magli's teacher Giulio Caccini (1550 - 1618) is more elegantly lyrical but here Pe sings both Caccini's version and the highly ornamented version by Johann Nauwach (1595 - 1630). Nauwach produced the earliest known collection of arias for solo voice published in 17th century Germany. In 1612 Nauwach visited Italy, and his ornamented version of Caccini's aria probably pays tribute to this period. Pe also sings Caccini's Sfogava con le stelle and Dispegate guance amate by Francesca Caccini (1587 - c1645), During this period of Magli's life, the Sicilian composer Sigismondo d'India (c1582 - 1629) visited Florence and met Caccini. The two masters participated in a vocal workshop, possibly Magli was involved. Here, Pe sing's D'India's wonderfully dramatic Ancidetemi pur (Lamentom di Giasone), full of Monteverdi style recitative conveyed in superb manner by Pe.

Magli's visit to Naples, where the art of playing the harp really flowered, is evoked by a trio of works, the aria O felice quel giorno by Francesco Lambari (1587 - 1642), the harp solo Toccata seconda per l'arpa by Giovanni Maria Travaci (c1575 - 1647), and the aria Hor che la nott'ombrosa by Girolamo Montesardo (1580  1620). Both arias were in Montesardo's I lieti giorni di Napoli ... per cantate all Tiorba, Gravicembalo Arpa doppia, i algri strumenti published in Naples in 1612. They are rather more ornamental and less advanced than the Monteverdi, and needless to say have wonderfully graceful harp parts. Montesardo's aria is a lovely echo song, and was probably written for the marriage of Elisabeth de Bourbon and Felipe IV of Spain.

Homages of a different kind follow. A setting of a sonnet by Petrach by the contemporary composer Alessandro Ciccolini (b.1970), Solo e pensoso very much evokes the Monteverdian style, but with little harmonic touches which indicate its modernity too. Giovan Camillo de Primi wrote a sonnet in praise of Johann Nauwach which was printed in Nauwach's 1627 collection, it is here sung to a melody from a contemporary manuscript.

Nauwach is represented by two pieces, Tempesta di dolcezza and Jetzund kompt di nacht herbey. These are intended to evoke Magli's period in Brandenburg, which is where Nauwach originated from. The disc concludes with another wonderful piece of Sigismondo d'India, Piangono al pianger mio.

The harp was becoming an important 17th century instrument. The harp part in Monteverdi's L'Orfeo was written for a harpist brought from Naples, and this is some of the earliest 17th century Italian music specifically written for this instrument.

The programme on this disc is highly imaginative, and it is matched by the wonderful performances. Pe very much has the recitar cantando style to perfection, but is also capable of highly beautiful lyric singing and some superbly virtuoso moments. He is finely supported by Granata and Miller, who both contribute to the overall high level of the recording.

The Medici Castrato - A homage to Gualberto Magli
Claudio Monteverdi (1567 - 1643) - L'Orfeo (excerpts)
Johann Nauwach (1595 - 1630) & Giulio Caccini (1550 - 1618) - Amarilli mia bella
Frencesca Caccini (1587 - c1645) - Dispiegate guance amate
Giulio Caccini (1550 - 1618) - Sfogava con le stelle
Sigismondo d'Indi (c1582 - 1629) - Ancidetemi pur (Lamento di Giasone)
Frencesco Lambardi (1587 - 1642) - O felice quel giorno
Giovanni Maria Trabaci (c1575 - 1647) - Toccata seconda per l'arpa
Girolamo Montesardo (1580 - 1620) - Hor che la nott'ombrosa
Alessandro Ciccolini (b1970) - Solo e pensoso
Anonymous 17th century - Se fama al mondo
Johann Nauwach (1595 - 1630) - Tempesta di dolcezza
Johann Nauwach (1595 - 1630) - Jetzund kompt die nacht herbey
Sigismondo d'Indi (c1582 - 1629) - Piantono al pianger mio
Raffale Pe (counter-tenor)
Chiara Granata (tripe harp)
David Miller (theorbo)
Recorded in St James's Church, Dengie, Essex, 20 June and 2-4 July 203

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