Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger (1580-1651)
Il Tedesco: Kapsberger in Rome, 1610
L’Escadron volant de la Reine
rec. 2018, Église Saint-Germain-d’Auxerre, Rémalard, France
Texts and translations included
Reviewed as a stereo 16/44 download with PDF booklet from eclassical.com
HARMONIA MUNDI HMM902645 
Among lovers of the lute and other plucked instruments, Giovanni Girolamo Kapsperger – or Johann Hieronymus Kapsberger, the name which he was given at his birth – is a famous name. His music is considered top of the bill and few players of plucked instruments have never played one of his pieces. His oeuvre for the theorbo, his preferred instrument, is well represented on disc and single pieces are oft included in recitals of vocal music of the early 17th century. However, he was more than just a player of and composer for the theorbo. He also left a substantial oeuvre of vocal music, both secular and sacred, as well as some pieces for an instrumental ensemble. These parts of his oeuvre are little known.
Kapsperger’s vocal music is written in the monodic style of his time. The theorist Athanasius Kircher praised his qualities in this department in his book Musurgia universalis (1650): “Hieronymus Kapsperger contributed various things to the Stylus Rezitativus, that are composed with the highest taste and the greatest practical knowledge, and certainly they are very worthy compositions, so that they are emulated by the musicians”.
Kapsperger published five collections of sacred works for one to eight voices and basso continuo. His secular oeuvre includes thirteen collections of pieces of different genres: madrigals, villanellas and arie passeggiate. The present disc offers examples from all genres. The programme is a cross-section of his secular oeuvre.
No fewer than seven collections are devoted to the genre of the villanella. It is described in New Grove as “generic term applied at various times to popular songs that originated in Naples and flourished from about 1537 to about 1650”. It is very likely that Kapsberger became acquainted with the genre during his sojourn in Naples, and this inspired him to contribute to the genre. The first book of villanellas was printed in 1610, the last in 1640. Villanellas are generally considered a ‘popular’ genre, which has little in common with the sophisticated and technically more demanding arie. Villanellas are strophic, and as a result allow for less text expression, as the music has to fit different texts. Even so, Kapsperger is keen to explore the possibilities in this department. A few years ago Les Kapsber’girls recorded a programme of villanellas (review). It is a matter of good fortune that this disc includes some villanellas, but rather focuses on the other two genres.
Eight pieces are taken from the first book of madrigals for five voices and basso continuo of 1609. These pieces are mostly rather short; the texts are the common stuff of this kind of repertoire, and are comparable with what was written by the likes of Gesualdo, Monteverdi or d’India. They focus on the sufferings of the lover and the cruelty of the lady. Words about dying frequently appear in these texts, and they offer an opportunity to use harmony for expressive reasons. The first item includes a marked example: “una voce dolente” – a grieving voice. The “una” is emphasized by a scoring for one voice; on the word “dolente” a second voice enters, and together they produce a dissonance.
The arie passeggiate are set for one voice and basso continuo. They are in the tradition of Caccini’s arias, included in his Le nuove musiche of 1601. The word passeggiate refers to the widespread diminution practice of that time: a line is broken up in various ways and ornamentation is added. This was a matter of improvisation, but in this case the diminutions are written out. They require considerable technical skills from the performers.
The disc ends with an extract from an occasional work, the Coro musicale nelle nozze degli Eccmi Sigri Don Taddeo Barberini e Donna Anna Colonna. Kapsperger wrote it in 1627 for the wedding of Taddeo Barberini (nephew of his patron Pope Urban VIII) and Anna Colonna, daughter of another noble Roman family. The booklet includes a note to this piece, saying that much of the images in the text are impossible to explain. The piece ends with good wishes: “May you obtain the fair fruit of children”.
The vocal items are alternated with specimens from several collections of instrumental music. Two collections of dances and sinfonias respectively were printed in the same year: 1615. They are in four parts, and one may assume that they were intended for strings. That does not exclude a performance with other instruments. Here, in one of them, the harpsichord also takes a passage.
The ensemble L’Escadron volant de la Reine consists of five singers (SSATBarB), violin, viola da gamba, theorbo, harp and keyboard (harpsichord, organ). It is very fine group of singers, as they have demonstrated in previous recordings. They show here their good understanding of the style of Kapsperger’s time. It is essential in this repertoire that the voices blend perfectly in the five-part pieces, and that the intonation is impeccable, in order to bring out the harmonic peculiarities, which serve the communication of the affetti. The singers succeed with flying colours. One thing that is often underrated is dynamics. The messa di voce was an important tool for singers in order to express particularly emotional passages or single words. I am happy that the singers of this ensemble are well aware of that. They show that in the madrigals, but the individual singers also apply this technique in the solo pieces. In the latter they deal admirably with the diminutions and the ornamentation.
Kapsperger was praised for his vocal music, and rightly so, as this disc makes crystal clear. His vocal oeuvre is very well served by L’Escadron volant de la Reine, and this disc is the perfect sequel to the above-mentioned recording of Les Kapsber’girls.
Johan van Veen
Lunge da voi ben mio
La mia leggiadra Filli
Nelle guancie di rose
Chi vi mira ben mio
Ultimi miei sospiri
Su l’erbe affissomi
Sconsolato mio core
Care lagrime mie
Occhi soli d’Amore
Se la doglia
Io rido amanti
Amor la Donna mia
Tu, che pallido essangue
Ah, Clori anima mia
Se turbando Austro le stelle
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