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Nuove Musiche
14 Jan 2006

CACCINI: Nuove musiche

When Giulio Caccini entitled his landmark 1601/02 publication Le nuove musiche, he confidently laid claim both to the novelty of the emerging baroque style and his formidable role in bringing it to blossom.

Giulio Caccini: Nuove musiche

Johannette Zomer, soprano; Fred Jacobs, theorbo

Channel Classics CCS SA 21305 [CD]


In late sixteenth-century Florence, Caccini was a member of the famous camerata of Count Giovanni Bardi, a humanistically inclined academy in which discussions of ancient music provided a basis for the modern innovations of monody, recitative, and opera. Above all else, the new aesthetic mandated the priority of the text with the result that harmonic license and declamatory style united in the moving of the affections. Caccini’s compositions and the performance instructions that he provides for them richly document the advance of the new style. And in this new recording by Dutch soprano Johannette Zomer and theorbist Fred Jacobs, the impassioned nature of the repertory is well served by a dynamic and stylish performance.

Caccini’s songs fall into two categories, through-composed madrigals and strophic airs. The stanzaic repetitions of the latter preclude close attention to the text—here lyric values are ascendant—and Caccini offers several examples that are strongly reminiscent of the rhythmic zest of the much earlier frottola. Dance-like and toe-tapping, airs like “Dalla porta d’oriente” and “Non ha ‘l ciel cotanti lumi” are rendered here with a vivacity that is memorable and a command of rapid passage work that is impressive. The through-composed madrigals combine declamatory gestures with lyric, ornamental flights that allow the singer to shape the poem with heightened passion and attention to the details of the text. The texts are from varied poets, though on this recording Ottavio Rinuccini, the librettist for a number of the earliest operas, is amply represented. And the texts are largely devoted to the painful sorrows of love. So much so, in fact, that the first line of the madrigal “Tutto ‘l dì piango” (I weep all the day) would seem an apt subtitle for the collection. But significantly, if the music is to be impassioned, it requires a text that is equally so, and the bemoanings of unrequited love were well chosen to this end.

Zomer’s singing is entrancing: lithe and articulate with an engaging ornamental vibrancy and a tone that is both rich and focused. Above all, however, it is her responsiveness to the demands of expression that so mark these performances as memorable.

The theorbo playing of Fred Jacobs contributes much to the success of the readings, as well, with stylish accompaniments and a striking clarity of sound. He also engagingly performs a number of solo pieces by the Ferrarese court lutenist, Alessandro Piccinini, including several works based on pre-existent material—the Romanesca, the tenore detto il Mercatello, and the Chiaconna—all of which bring to mind the rich improvisational heritage of much early baroque instrumental performance.

In Nuove Musiche, Zomer and Jacobs provide a rich experience of the newly emerging baroque style. It is an experience to revisit with frequency.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

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