Thursday 7 October 2021

Con arte e maestria - Virtuoso violin ornamentation from the dawn of the Italian Baroque

Con arte e maestria - Virtuoso violin ornamentation from the dawn of the Italian Baroque, Oliver Webber, Steven Devine, Monteverdi String Band In Focus; Resonus Classics

Con arte e maestria - Virtuoso violin ornamentation from the dawn of the Italian Baroque
, Oliver Webber, Steven Devine, Monteverdi String Band In Focus; Resonus Classics

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 November 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A dazzling yet intelligent and engaging exploration of the Italian virtuoso art of ornamentation in the early Baroque

When the Milanese violinist Francesco Rognoni captioned his piece Io son ferito (from the second volume of his Selva di varii passaggi) 'Modo di passeggiar con arte e mestria' - ' manner of ornamenting with art and mastery' he used a phrase which is still used today 'con arte e maestria' to denote excellence and consummate craftsmanship in creative fields.

On this Monteverdi String Band In Focus disc from Resonus Classics, two members of the Monteverdi String Band, Oliver Webber (violin) and Steven Devine (organ and harpsichord) return the phrase to its original use and explore the art of ornamentation in 16th  and early 17th century Italian music.

At its heart, the disc examines the music of five musicians, the Venetian composer and instrumentalist Girolamo dalla Casa (died 1601), the Milanese violinist Riccardo Rognoni (c1550-c1620), the composer and singer Giovanni Battista Bovicelli (fl. late 16th century), Carlo G (fl. 1600-1620) and the composer Francesco Rognoni (died c. 1626), son of Riccardo Rognoni. Each took that art of ornamentation, of diminution (so called because ornaments were inserted by creating patterns of faster notes from slower one) to new and different heights.

For each of these five, we hear not so much music that they composers but music that they ornamented, adding elaboration to such a degree that the original is radically changed. For each, Webber performs a surviving original piece and one where he ornaments a contemporary piece in the same style. The intention is to explore the musician's different styles of ornamentation. Bovicelli was singer whilst we presume the others to have been violinists. Though about Carlo G. little is known for certain because the manuscript he created (only discovered in 2007) has his name smudged! It is a trove of ornamented songs with fully realised continuo accompaniment, thus providing us with a superb window onto a particular style of performance. 

In his booklet note, Webber encourages us to listen critically to this music, not just to be dazzled by the performances (as surely the original listeners were) but also to be able to differentiate between these different styles of ornamentation. This would be what the original performers would hope for, aiming their performances at the discerning small group of amateurs of the art who recognised the elements of the skill.

Between these pieces, Webber and Devine insert a selection of toccatas, ricercars and intonazioni which both act as preludes as well as giving us further examples of this sort of ornamentation in practice, when taken up by other composers and performers. 

This could actually be quite a dry disc, but Webber and Devine's command of the style along with their palpable enthusiasm for the music makes the recital one which is always engaging and at times compelling, you wonder quite how someone manages to make their fingers run so fast. Yet, dazzling or not, this is always music, intelligently and vividly played.

Giovanni Bassano (c.1561–1617)
1. Ricercata prima - Cipriano de Rore (c.1515–1565)
(ornaments by Riccardo Rognoni, c.1550–c.1620)
2. Anchor che col partire - Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c.1525–1594)
(ornaments by Oliver Webber b.1969)
3. Deh hor foss’io col vago della luna - Ascanio Mayone (c.1565–1627)
4. Canzon francese prima - Biagio Marini (1594–1663)
5. Sinfonia ‘La Gardana - Oliver Webber (after Giovanni Bassano)
6. Ricercata - Thomas Crecquillon (c.1505–c.1557)
(ornaments by Oliver Webber)
7. Par trop souffrir de fortune ennemie - Orlando di Lasso (c.1532–1594)
(ornaments by Girolamo dalla Casa, d.1601)
8. Susanne ung jour - Gärtner (dates unknown)
9. Toccata - Biagio Marini
10. Sinfonia ‘L’Orlandina’ - Giovanni Gabrieli (c.1555–1612)
11. Toccata del secondo tuono - Tomas Luis de Victoria (c.1548–1611)
(ornaments by Giovanni Battista Bovicellim, fl. late 16th century)
12. Dilectus tuus candidus - Cipriano de Rore
(ornaments by Oliver Webber)
13. Signor mio caro - Oliver Webber (after Claudio Monteverdi)
14. Ciaccona - Michelangelo Rossi (c.1601–1656)
15. Toccata nona - Dario Castello (1602–1631)
16. Sonata prima - Carlo G (fl. c.1600–1620)
17. Convertisti planctum - Giovanni Paolo Caprioli (c.1580–c.1627)
(ornaments by Oliver Webber)
18. Vulnerasti cor meum - Antonio Mortaro (fl. 1587–1610)
(ornaments by Oliver Webber)
19. Canzona ‘La Malvezza’ - Aurelio Virgiliano (fl. c.1600)
20. [Ricercata] on 'Vestiva I colli' - Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
(ornaments by Oliver Webber)
21. Così le chiome mie - Andrea Gabrieli (c.1532–1585)
22. Intonazione quarto toni - Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
(ornaments by Francesco Rognoni, d. c.1626)
23. Io son ferito
Oliver Webber (violin)
Steven Devine (organ & harpsichord)
Recorded in St John's Church, Loughton, 10-12 February 2021.

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