Castaldi CD Reviews

Castaldi CD CoverEarly Music America: This fine new release includes songs of love with Bellerofonte Castaldi’s settings of his own poetry and virtuoso duos for theorbo and tiorbino (published in Modena in 1622 and in Venice in 1623). The lyrics of this period are raw, emotional, direct, and sometimes passionate to the extreme. They match the twisting columns and surging full-blown draperies of the dramatic sculpture and paintings of early 17th-century Italian Baroque art. However, the classical influences of the Renaissance and Mannerist periods were not totally done away with. There is an element of restraint that holds the performer in check. True, the lyrics swing wildly through all the human emotions, and the music descriptively carries the power of these texts, but in the end propriety still carries the day in that the paroxysm of emotion is rarely reached.

This new recording as internalized all of the above and presents it to the listener’s ears with a direct and intimate sound that is highly charged with anticipation. The CD contains 16 songs for tenor and/or soprano (lyrics by the composer) and four instrumental pieces. Of these four works, three are duos for therobo and tiorbino and one is a harpsichord composition entitled “Canzon quinta detta Bellerofonte,” penned by Frescobaldi. This keyboard piece is preserved only in manuscript and is receiving its first recording, beautifully played by Neil Cockburn on an Italian instrument built by Gianpaolo Plozner (A=440, 1/6 comma meantone). The performers on this disc are internationally known masters in their respective fields and most have been published; the collaboration includes artists from Italy, the U.S., Scotland, and Canada. Careful thought has gone into the choice of repertoire, programming, placement of the microphones, preparation and rehearsal of this disc, and the five voices (three sopranos and two tenors) utilized. From the outset we are treated to a concert from this “free-spirit” composer as he might have presented it. Castaldi (1580-1649) is all but unknown in our own day. It seems he was something of a lone-wolf in his own, so his reputation is still in eclipse and undervalued. Original Italian and English translations of the song texts are included with these world premier recordings, along with a fine in-depth essay by David Dolata, associate professor at Florida International University, entitled, “Bellerofonte Castaldi: Composer, Lutenist, Poet and Adventurer.” This disc is an excellent introduction to a long-lost Italian artistic genius and a highly polished project worthy of your attention. -Paul-James Dwyer

Lute News: Castaldi was a true renaissance man, a virtuoso lutenist, poet, composer and engraver, not to mention satirist and adventurer. This CD includes fifteen of Castaldi’s settings of his own poetry, some of them recorded here for the first time; three duets for tiorbino and theorbo, and for good measure Frescobaldi’s keyboard piece ‘Canzon Quinta detta Bellerofonte’ also receiving its first recorded performance.

The majority of the songs are performed by Fagotto, an accomplished but very ltalianate singer. I found his earthy, in-yourface manner of delivery and pronounced vibrato when climaxing on the longer notes overwhelming at times but this may of course have been exactly how Castaldi would have expected his songs to be performed rather than in the refined English choirboy style we are accustomed to over here. The way in which Fagotto negotiates the florid ornamentation in ‘ Pili non vi miro’ and ‘Occhi Belli’ is quite stunning but he also brings tenderness to the more reflective numbers such as ‘Felice e contento’. He is joined by Zinutti in a rousing performance of ‘Quanto che tanto’ with its lively fa la refrain. The two Italian sopranos, Fabris and Corrieri adopt a similar approach albeit in a slightly more restrained manner. The duet ‘O Clorida vaga e gentile’ makes an exhilarating start to the programme and they divide the honours equally in ‘Fuor di noia’, each of them tackling the elborate passage work in alternate verses. The virtuosity of the Italians is more than equally matched by the Canadian (?) – soprano Janet Youngdahl who negotiates the stratosphere with ease in the Echo aria- in which the repetition of the last two syllables of the final word of each stanza cleverly alters the meaning of the words. In ‘Lo sdegno’ and ‘Pieno di bellezze’ she emphasises the ge,~<-‘t1eness and light-hearted mood of the words. It is interesting to’.ge able to compare the different approach and vocal characteristicsof singers of different nationalities.

The three duets for theorbo and tiorbino, ‘Quagliotta canzone’, ‘Capriccio detto hermafrodito’ and ‘Capriccio di battaglia’ are charming. Castaldi delighted in giving his pieces picturesque titles which are reflected in one way or another in the music. In the notes the contrapuntal entries in the Quagliotta canzone are likened to the mother quail stepping out followed by her chicks which seems an apt description of the way the music develops. The hermafrodito of the capriccio may refer to the classical statue ‘The sleeping hermaphrodite’ discovered in 1610 and displayed in Rome with which Castaldi may well have been familiar. All are beautifully performed ‘by Dolata and Coelho with · crisp sense of rhythm, neat passage work, beautifully clear contrapuntaJ lines and nicely judged contrasts in dynamics.

Castaldi is a fascinating figure both as a man.and a musician and in spite of a few reservations about the singing, I think the disc creates a vivid portrait of one of the most talented composers of the early 17th century. – Monica Hall

Société Française du Luth (translated from the original French): A true Renaissance man, Bellerofonte Castaldi was at the same time a poet, satirist, engraver, adventurer, lute virtuoso, and composer.  The majority of the song texts on this CD were written by him and, notwithstanding the vivacity of the melodies, they often evoke disappointed love, anger, or rejection.   Add to this his talent as a chronicler, thanks to which we know well the story of his breathtaking life which crossed paths with Monteverdi and Frescobaldi, as well as all of northern Italy’s high artistic, political, and religious society.  So here we discover inordinately rich songs, published in 1623, with figured bass for lute or harpsichord, a late Italian Renaissance treasure chest providing irrefutable testimony to the art of early baroque melodic accompaniment.   These songs are interspersed with some of the famous duos for theorbo and tiorbino from Capricci a due stromenti (1622), often featuring virtuosic writing for this unique and brilliant musical combination.

This disc, quite varied, offers us thousands of vocal and instrumental colors typical of the era: teeming with plucked strings in different tessituras (without bowed bass) for basso continuo, songs for soloist or duos, echoes, recitatives, dance songs… We can barely take it all in.  The theorbos, tiorbinos, and other archlutes improvise introductions, ritornellos, and luminous countermelodies, all well supported by the bass (ah, the theorbo’s 16-foot!).  The tenor G. P. Fagotto, his voice as his name is like a bassoon: its timbre, brilliance, and theatricality indispensible to this music; the sopranos respond like two nightingales in a Modenese garden… The songs often have the same freshness, the same melodic richness, the same dancelike rhythms that we easily recognize in Caccini.  Here we can also find grand ornamented recitatives, virtuosic, suave, and sensual like Felice e contento and Porterà’l sol, where the bass descends bit by bit beneath the tenor’s sustained notes … The most spectacular songs of this recording are without doubt the Echo for two sopranos, each with its own theorbo or archlute, and the last great tenor aria: Amor colei, with an impressive tessitura, and accompanied by a particularly rich basso continuo.  In the duos for theorbo and tiorbino (Quagliotta canzone, Capriccio detto hermafrodito, Capriccio di battaglia a due stromenti), the language changes, it becomes clearly more instrumental, more rigorous, more contrapuntal; thanks to the two instruments an immense tessitura is covered (the 16-foot to the 4-foot on an organ), but with great neatness, due to the simple strings of the instruments and the musicians’ care for clarity.  The writing for these pieces is truly exciting: imitations, tumbling parallel tenths, contrary motion, classic canzona themes, little solo sections for each instrument… But, the final bouquet is indisputably reserved for Battaglia, judiciously placed at the end of the disc, an imposing work of nearly fifteen minutes where we have the world premier recording! If the piece begins in a rather tranquil fashion, it soon evolves into something stunning and incredibly inventive, similar to certain passages that recall those of Falconiero or Merula*: huge arpeggios; responses; echoes; modulations; thirds; trumpet, fife, and drum effects; daring passages; and minor drones… Real fireworks! – Pascale Bouquet

*See also the  Battaglia de FalconierolMerula recording for lute quartet by the Luths Consort (Cd SFL 0802)

International Record Review: …Dolata and Coelho are sure-figured and refined lutenists. Their greatest test, passed very successfully, is the monumental Capriccio di battaglia… the sopranos…whose pure, flexible voices are heard in two duets, O Clorida and Fuor di noia. Fabris also sings one delicious solo, O crudel amor… The instrumental accompaniment for all the songs is superb. The theorbo’s clear, deep, saturated tones make it well suited for accompanying the voice, but the continuo is further enriched by the addition of a second theorbo, the tiorbino, an archlute and a harpsichord in different combinations, providing inventive and sensitive figured bass realisations.”

Cd Classico: Bravissimi dunque i cantanti protagonisti – Gabriele Formenti

L’Informazione (Bologna – translated from the original Italian):

Sunday 24 July 2011

A Classic by Chiara Sirk

It’s titled Battaglia d’amore, a CD that collects the vocal and instrumental music of Bellerofonte Castaldi, released by the London label Toccata Classics (distributed in Italy by Ducale). Born in Collegara, near Modena, Castaldi was a writer, musician, composer, and artist who exemplified the Renaissance intellectual. A curious eclectic man, he was also a troublemaker, often in flight or in jail, but during the period in which he lived, he was considered to be an artist of the highest caliber. To remind us of all this, we have a studious American musician, musicologist, and university professor who discovered Castaldi’s life, death (1649), and a great deal of music. His name is David Dolata, and in the CD he presents the music of the Modenese [Castaldi], and in the booklet tells us of Castaldi’s vicissitudes and genius. He explains how Castaldi can be thought of as a modern singer-songwriter, a sort of Renaissance Bob Dylan, because, unlike his contemporaries, he preferred to write his own texts for his songs. We discover that in his writings Castaldi marveled at a singer he referred to as “Pavarotto gentil,” who may have been the ancestor of the beloved late Luciano. David Dolata and Victor Coelho perform several of the nine duets for theorbo and tiorbino, all full of pyrotechnical effects. The vocal selections sung by Gian Paolo Fagotto, Janet Youngdahl, Laura Fabris, Eugenia Corriere, and Claudio Zinutti, are impeccable from a technical point of view. Almost all of the pieces are premiere recordings. The disc was made possible through the generous support of various American universities, the Province of Pordenone, and the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Udine e Pordenone, but without the participation of Modena, the composer’s hometown.


He even created a new instrument, the tiorbino, smaller than the theorbo, tuned an octave higher.

Early Music:

The crop of plucked-string recordings considered here all come from the second half of the lute’s golden age, from the turn of the 17th century to the middle of the 18th. We may call this the Baroque era, but the life of Bellerofonte Castaldi fulfils all the stereotypes of the larger-than-life ‘Renaissance man’. Not only lute composer and musician, but also poet, artist and engraver, he seems to have invented the tiorbino, a little octave theorbo; his colourful private life included numerous spells in prison, and a vendetta which left him with a bullet lodged in his foot. On Bellerofonte Castaldi: Battaglia d’amore (Toccata Classics tocc 0081, rec 2006, 77!) the group Il Furioso and four singers record songs with Castaldi’s own lyrics from his Primo Mazzetto (1623) and an extant Modenese manuscript, plus three theorbo and tiorbino duets from his Capricci (1622); many of these works are première recordings. This mainly vocal disc makes a lovely complement to the recent Castaldi instrumental disc by Vincent Dumestre’s Poème Harmonique. Castaldi’s vocal oeuvre includes ornamented monodies, charming triple-time strophic songs and duets, and a striking echo song—accompanied here with harpsichord, theorbo and tiorbino, taking just a few modest liberties in adding ritornellos and instrumental verses. All the singing is good full-blooded ‘early opera’ style, without excessive vibrato; Castaldi’s instruction that the men’s songs should be sung by tenors, not falsetti, is respected. The disc concludes with a remarkable Capriccio di battaglia, programme music which encompasses a wide range of moods, curiously echoing in places both Terzi’s canzona for four lutes and Valdarrabano’s Discantar sobre un punto. The music passes the early music equivalent of the ‘old grey whistle test’—it makes you want to go out and get the scores, and perform the music with friends. This is a charming disc which deserves to sit alongside Monteverdi, Marini et al. in one’s collection. – Christopher Goodwin

Fanfare Magazine:

CASTALDI Battaglia d’amore FRESCOBALDI Canzon quinta detta Bellerofonte David Dolata, cond; Gian Paolo Fagotto (ten); Il Furioso (period instruments) TOCCATA CLASSICS 0081 (76:33 &)

There can be no doubt that Bellerfonte Castaldi (1580-1649) was one of the most colorful and well liked figures of his age, even though he is hardly a household name today. The back cover of this disc claims that he was “the Bob Dylan of his day,” meaning that he had a popular accessible musical style and wrote his own lyrics. That is as may be, but there can be no doubt that he was an eccentric character. He was named after a mythological figure, primarily because his father grew tired of misaddressed mail, and since he was from a rather well-off family he hardly had to suffer economic difficulties during his lifetime. This allowed him to dabble in virtually all artistic fields, and he purposely sought out both poets and musicians of his time, entering into extensive correspondence. Claudio Monteverdi, Ottavio Rinuccini, Gianbattista Marino, Girolamo Frescobaldi, Orazio Vecchi, and Giovanni Kapsberger were counted among his personal friends, and he spent time in various cities throughout Italy outside his hometown of Modena. This included a pied-à-terre in Venice, where he finally retired at the age of 63 in 1643. He was convivial and self-deprecating, at one point shortly before his death lamenting that he could not go on vacation to the Alps because “a belly full of lasagna had made him so enormously fat,” according to the excellent booklet notes by David Dolata. In short, he was probably a person anyone would love to meet, though he was not without his demons; it would seem that he was co-conspirator in the murder of the scion of the powerful Pepoli family. This and other “infractions” made him have a close acquaintance with the insides of a prison more than once.
As a lute player, Castaldi composed mainly for his instruments, the theorbo and tiorbino, the latter a smaller version of the former and pitched higher. The tiorbino in particular is an instrument that never really was much in fashion, and Castaldi seems to have been the principal composer for it (though of course it had uses as part of the continuo group). It is therefore note surprising to note that his duets, which he himself apparently described as “tobacco and wine,” have been recorded previously. Back in 1998 a selection, including several vocal works, was done on Alpha by Le Poem Harmonique, while Diana Pelagatti released a disc of his lute capriccios on Tactus three years later. The Love Letters are also available on Bella Music with Giovanni Cantarini and Il Vero Modo from 2007 following yet another disc of the capriccios by the Lautten Compagney on New Classical Adventure the previous year. This would indicate that there is a fair amount of Castaldi out there, so he is not exactly unknown to discography, but this program brings another perspective, with ten songs from the Primo Mazzetto of 1623 and several works from his instrumental capriccios. Finally, Il Furioso has chosen to include the peripatetic Canzona quinta detta Bellerofonte by Frescobaldi, a piece for harpsichord that possibly reflects their friendship and collaboration. Of these, only two seem to have been recorded previously.

In terms of musical style Castaldi is very much aware of the more lyrical Roman style that was developing, even as the newer monodic style was running its course. He has a lovely sense of rhythm that emphasizes the linguistic flow. For example, “O Clorinda” is a lyrical duet in parallel thirds, with the odd insertion of dissonance whenever a momentary discussion of the fading of youth appears. In the lengthy two-part “Echo” madrigal, the voice is pure monody, with a fading background echo on the last part of each phrase, and in the second part there is even a second echo that makes it seem positively cavernous. In “Quella altera” a very nice almost syllabic wandering line is like an early Baroque rap, with strummed single lute chords that highlights the perpetual motion of the verses. When one actually reads the stanzas about an ice queen, then the lilting line becomes more like a pointed whine, beautifully formulated. The instrumental works are exquisitely detailed, with the final piece, the battle duet between the theorbo and tiorbino, nothing less than a sort of Baroque dueling banjos, replete with marching rhythms, echo effects, and virtuoso moments.

Dolata’s group, Il Furioso, performs this disc with skill and sensitivity. Sopranos Laura Fabris, Janet Youngdahl, and Eugenia Corrieri are all spot on in terms of pitch and blend well, while Gian Paolo Fagotto provides a powerful and secure foil in his pieces. The accompaniment of Victor Coelho and Dolata can be nicely subdued, giving the vocal numbers a Troubadour quality, but in their solos they truly shine. For those interested in an alternative world to Monteverdi or the beginnings of the Venetian style, this is an indispensable disc. – Bertil van Boer

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