Kapsberger CD Reviews

Kapsberger CD CoverGramophone: Of German descent, Giovanni Kapsberger was born in Italy and established himself as a central musical figure in Rome in the early 1600s, transforming the profile of the theorbo as a solo instrument and composing works for both the Sistine Chapel and Urban VIII’s papal chambers. For all the evidence of an accomplished rhetorical imagination in the second book of arias from 1623 (through a coherent survey of penitence and redemptive compassion in the madrigali spirituali vein), Il Furioso’s “first recording” reveals a figure torn between syllabic simplicity and the vanities of early Baroque ornament, through deeply felt melismatic airs and lighter idioms.

Victor Coelho puts a fairly strong case for this music, though I cannot pretend that Kapsberger’s vocal writing achieves much beyond the generic; even the best masters of monody require something very special in current performance to reach out to listeners beyond the expert or curious enthusiast. Only the tenor, Gian Paolo Fagotto, seems to carry the text beyond the confines of what can often appear little more than meandering musings. Even so, there are some attractive canzonettas and the final duet Perché pietà (which Coelho describes in hyperbole as an “extravagant, bleeding vocal toccata”) is economically pleasing. The theorbo playing is often imaginative and occasionally prosaic. In sum, a cautious foray for all but the true aficionado. – Jonathan Freeman-Attwood

Goldberg Magazine: Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger is today best known for his extraordinary compositions for solo lute and theorbo. The usually adventurous harmonic language, coupled with rhythmic inventions of a most creative sort, constitutes the basis of some of the most unique music of the period. However, Kapsberger’s musical output included much more than writing for the lute family of instruments – madrigals, solo arias, motets, strophic villanelles, instrumental dances, sinfonie, Masses, and stage works also feature in the composer’s rich musical output. Il Furioso, under the leadership of Victor Coelho, presents us with nearly all of Kapsberger’s Libro Secondo (1626), a publication of arias set to spiritual texts, and several theorbo solos found in various contemporary collections. The CD features some first-class singing, especially from the group’s tenor, Gian Paolo Faggoto. Tu dormi displays a notable sensitivity to the sentiment of the text and a remarkable ease of ornamentation. Perche pieta, a soprano-bass duet sung by Janet Youngdahl and Paul Grindlay, is likewise worth noting for the exceptional virtuosity displayed by the two singers. The continuo section of the group, comprised of theorbo, archlute, and harpsichord, provide a very nice support even though a greater variety of sound colour would be welcome. The solo theorbo pieces demonstrate considerable musical maturity and skills on the instrument by both Victor Coelho and David Dolata; Kapsberger’s Corrente and an anonymous Toccata are particularly charming. Overall, this polished and pleasurable recording is a welcome reminder of the musical versatility of one of the 17th century’s most original composers. – Zak Ozmo

MusicWeb-International: When do you think baroque music, as we now call it, actually started? A daft question you might say but what about 1605, the date of Monteverdi’s 5th Book of madrigals? Why? The book starts in what is known as the style antico but by the end we have come ‘up to date’. Instrumental parts like the basso continuo become obligatory for the last six pieces. Gradually in his remaining books the idea of an aria being accompanied by written out instrumental sections becomes standard. There’s only a fine line that separates Arias as here from Madrigals. By 1623, the date of Kapsberger’s book, recorded here, this format was fairly commonplace – on the continent anyway. With one voice or possibly two, more dramatic word-setting is possible. Kapsberger’s vocal music has been little acclaimed but his lute music is available on disc. This disc undoubtedly helps to redress the balance.

Who was Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger? His biography can be briefly summed up as of German extraction but born in Venice. He was one of the most successful musicians of his generation, both as a performer on the lute and theorbo and as composer. He ended up working for Pope Urban VIII in Rome. His output covers all genres including Mass settings. His reputation waned after his death and has remained in obscurity until relatively recent times.

Kapsberger’s style is mostly highly ornamental and recitativic, demanding vocal agility and virtuosity of his performers. In addition he requires that very rare creature, a basso profundo. We have one here in the shape of the Canadian Paul Grindley. This singer opens the disc and at first my heart sank at what I felt was too doleful a tone. However it didn’t take me long to ‘acclimatise’ and indeed really enjoy his contribution. Of the sopranos I rather prefer the lighter Julie Harris who, sadly, is only allocated three works here. Generally speaking I like the singers who capture the challenges and beauties convincingly. The instrumental work is, I feel, exemplary and I like the subtle changes of instrumentation within the arias, especially the sometimes sudden removal of the harpsichord leaving the archlute dramatically alone.

The excellent booklet essay by Victor Coelho, who also leads the group Il Furioso points out that the vocal items as recorded can be divided into three sections as follows: Tracks 1-7 (texts spoken by God to the sinner), tracks 8-12 (The lamenting Magdalene), tracks 13-19, (Moses and other voices of the prophets). He also explains that this is not the way the ‘arias’ were presented in the original publication. Indeed the entire book has not been recorded: five pieces are missing. A curious anomaly, you might think, especially as the disc runs in at less than an hour. However Coelho explains that he wanted to record “those pieces which stand out from a musical and literally stand-point”. Also he wanted “to record all of the duets and also works which offered technical challenges, especially textual ones”.

And what texts too! Kapsberger tackles some difficult, thought-provoking and yes, deeply philosophical poems by men of the calibre of Petrarch. Others are by lesser-known figures, Gabriello Chiabrera (1619) and Giambattista Marino (1614). An example of the mood of the words can be summed up in ‘Tu dormi’: “You sleep, my soul/You sleep, alas, and don’t hear God’s high and just words / How will you suffer, cruel heart / Who in vain calls one who is dying for you”. Especially striking is the last aria, a duet, with its everlasting cry of “Why are my long suffering / And my fervent prayers / Denied mercy?”

Variety is achieved within the disc by first having a different voice or group of voices perform each song and secondly by interspersing the vocal items with contemporary solo lute pieces – a very happy mix.

I would like to congratulate Toccata as this is as good a recording of early music as I have ever heard. The small instrumental group are widely, but naturally, spaced across the stereo picture, superbly balanced and wonderfully clear. The vocalists are placed centre-stage. The bass notes ring out with true ambience, and the theorbo and archlute are recorded intimately so that every note is clear, but not unnaturally so.

It’s true that this music is a curious by-way of the early baroque. Nevertheless Kapsberger is worth investigating and I think that he should rank as an especially significant figure. Let’s hope for more. – Gary Higginson

Music Week: Victor Coelho’s baroque ensemble lives up to its name in this sparky world premiere recording of Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger’s thrilling Second Book of Arias. ll Furioso’s rock’n’roll approach, energised by Gian Paolo Fagotto’s ballsy singing and superb recorded sound, lifts these 17th – century songs of joy and sorrow from the page with irresistible force. – Andrew Stewart

ClassicalSource.com: Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger (1580-1651) was perhaps one of the true originals of the Italian Baroque, and although he is best known today for his eccentric and highly effective lute and chitarrone music (the popular Toccata arpeggiata being but one example), this new disc from the enterprising Toccata Classics label shows him to be equally adventurous when composing for the voice.

Kapsberger’s “Libro secondo d’arie” (1623), recorded here almost in its entirety (only five items having been omitted) and for the first time, contains settings of spiritual texts that largely deal with repentance and loss. Il Furioso’s director Victor Coelho has organised the selection into three sections (‘God and the Sinner’; ‘the lamenting Mary Magdalene’; and ‘Moses and other voices’), interspersed with solos for theorbo by Kaspberger, Bellerofonte Castaldi and assorted anonymous composers. The various styles range from highly melismatic arie in the Monteverdian vein, through more loosely structured, toccata-like duets and stile rappresentivo settings, to more simple, dance-like canzonette.

Overall the performances from the vocalists are excellent, though at one end of the satisfaction scale tenor Gian Paolo Fagotto’s fluent negotiation of Kapsberger’s florid ornamentation is a marvel, while at the other an intrusive vibrato from many of the singers does tend to get in the way of one’s enjoyment a little. All three instrumentalists play with delicacy and grace, Coelho’s theorbo solos in particular showing off his attractive tone and finely-judged rhythmic shading.

Whether or not you subscribe to the Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher’s seeing in Kapsberger a worthy successor to Monteverdi, this is a welcome and enjoyable release that not only has intrinsic value but helps us further to round out our musical picture of early 17th-century Rome. The recorded sound is warm and intimate; however I found the spatial arrangements (harpsichord in the centre and plucked instruments on either side) a little too self-contained and artificial. Coelho’s booklet note is, however, beyond criticism, and texts and translations are included. – William Yeoman

All Music Guide: A sea change occurred in music between 1584, when Palestrina wrote his Shostakovich-like renunciation of secular music in a dedication to Pope Gregory XIII (“I blush and grieve to think,” he wrote, that he had been one of the composers who wrote spiritually lowly madrigals of love), and 1623, when Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger (an Italian, despite the German name) wrote the spiritual solo madrigals that make up the Libro Secondo d’arie. Yet political and musical changes don’t always go hand in hand, and the severe ideals of the Catholic Counter Reformation still carried plenty of weight as Kapsberger created these works for the Pope-producing Barberini family. Musically these are pieces in the Monteverdi recitative style, extended in a few intriguing directions by Kapsberger. What makes them unusual are the texts. You might call them anti-love songs, written to texts by Petrarch, Giambattista Marino, and other major poets of the era. The speakers in the texts are various: Mary Magdalene, Moses, Christ, or the Lord in a dialogue with the sinner’s soul. The theme running throughout, however, is that of the rejection of the sphere of human love. Sample track 6, Pargoletto son io (I am a child), with its innovative structure of interlocking dual sections. “The spirit I have in my heart despises this false god, the futile richness of love,” sings the human soul aspiring to the divine. Some of the songs, however, could be read as either secular or sacred — sample track 10, T’inaspiri a miei lamenti (You become embittered by my laments), which could have come straight out of one of the later books of Monteverdi’s secular madrigals. The overall impression is that the deployment of operatic devices in the service of Lutheran devotion that one associates with Bach has its ultimate roots in the earliest Baroque, and in the Catholic sphere to boot. Thus, the mainly Canadian group Il Furioso deserves credit for bringing this little-known music to light; Kapsberger has been known mostly to lutenists. The singers, however, only intermittently achieve the virtuosity this music demands — Kapsberger’s vocal music was written, in the words of one commentator, for “the best singers in all Italy.” It is particularly soprano Janet Youngdahl, a singer with roots in medieval music, that is problematic — sample one of the tracks on which she appears (tracks 3 and 6 are the first two) to see whether her style appeals to you. She often runs through a phrase almost baldly, with no vibrato, and then drops precipitously onto one of the complex ornaments at the phrase’s end. Tenor Gian Paolo Fagotto is more powerful, but it may be that the strongest benefit of this release is that it might interest Rinaldo Alessandrini or one of the other musicians who has been revolutionizing Monteverdi performance in these very unusual mixtures of sacred and secular ideas. – James Manheim

Société Française du Luth (translated from the original French): “In this disc, the piety of the counterreformation and the expressive theatricality of Italian monody are indistinctly intermingled.”

That is perhaps what makes this disc so varied, not to mention the wealth of instrumentation with such a large role given to plucked strings!  Alternating with songs (very ornamented for the tenor, rather measured for the soprano), Victor’s theorbo offers us a Corrente by Kapsberger with a double at times arpeggiated and very brisk, then David presents a sonata from 1622 by the famed Castaldi.  Their playing is well matched: clear and sharp, with balanced phrases devoid of superficial effects.  In the continuo, they are well complemented by the harpsichord’s gravity and serenity.  The variety of colors perfectly serve the program’s more operatic works, such as the tenor’s almost Monteverdian  Tu dormi.  Theatrical also, the opposition between the dance-like Pargoletto son io, a soprano aria of innocence lost, and the long tenor aria I’vo piangendo (on Petrarch’s text, as are many of the madrigals on this disc).  The recording is organized around texts and themes corresponding to different personages, such as God and the sinner, Magdalene, Moses, and others.  A little later, Mary Magdalene’s suffering is incarnated by the dissonances and modulations accompanying the soprano, which, from tension to relaxation portrays the passage from torment to relief.  The vocal duos on this disc are equally quite interesting: a rather homophonic soprano-bass duo (They ornament together simultaneously), or the soprano duo in response to a thoroughly springtime theme….  The bass singer offers us some tragic airs “To have mercy on he who is dying,” where his lightly trembling timbre could depict emotion and fragility.  Aside from the pieces for theorbo, we have a quite simple (in two voices, of narrow tessitura) anonymous Roman Canzona in the typical long-short-short rhythm, then the celebrated Monica, from the same manuscript, even and regular, and finally a Toccata that develops the same chord at great length, descending from bass note to bass note, and concluding with a short fugato.  Castaldi reappears afterwards, with the Mustazzin corrente, where a roaming theme passes from low to high, to end in an almost impulsive fashion.  The disc ends with a duo featuring an extremely wide range between the bass and soprano, illustrating the most profound mercy granted to humanity.

A disc that illustrates human weaknesses and passions, served by warm voices and eminent theorbists/musicologists, yet simple and sincere.  To discover. – Pascale Bouquet

Fanfare Magazine:

KAPSBERGER Libro secondo d’arie (1623) Victor Coelho, cond; Janet Youngdahl (sop); Julie Harris (sop); Gian Paolo Fagotto (ten); Paul Grindlay (bs); Il Furioso (period instruments) Ÿ TOCCATA CLASSICS 0027 (54:07 &)

In 1623 Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger published his Libro secondo, a set of rather severe moralistic texts that seem at odds with the often frivolous and human subjects of other arias of the time. Interspersed at extra material are instrumental odds and ends; a rather nicely flowing Corrente by the composer, an anonymous canzona, toccata, and lute song transcription entitled “La Monica,” and two works by Bellerofonte Castaldi, whose music I review elsewhere in this issue. Each of these interludes is only a couple of minutes at the most and serve to separate the vocal sections of the print. Since all of them are rather more melodically active, they set off the conservative monodic arias.

The meditative nature of the poetry was probably the result of Kapsberger’s new allegiance to the Barberini family, one of whom was appointed about this time as Pope Urban VIII.  Although the Papal court was somewhat secularized, with the lutenist composer writing operas and various instrumental dances, he was also focused upon a more austere sacred music. In 1631 he published the Missæ Urbanæ, a set of Masses dedicated to his patron that were almost certainly performed in the Sistine Chapel, as well as a Jesuit opera on saints Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier. Kapsberger chose a deliberately conservative style for these pieces, with accompaniment limited to chords above a voice that moves with the appropriate florid ornamentation. On occasion, there is considerable sensitivity, as in the number “O come in van credei,” in which a sepulchral bass, descending to its lowest register, proclaims the futility of pleasure, moving at the end to bitter tears. In “Popol diletto mio,” a distraught Moses admonishes his flock for their iniquities, with the tenor becoming more agitated rhythmically as he outlines their ingratitude.  In “T’inaspiri a miei lamenti,” the soprano and bass weave a gentle duet around the subject of love’s cruelty, as if both male and female participants have experienced a mutual pain (which of course they have). The following pastoral “Dunque con stile” has the two innocent shepherdesses begins with a light dance-like duet, but as each of the verses explores the fleeting beauty of youth, the lines expand, reuniting in the moralistic final verse.

The recording by Il Furioso is particularly effective. Paul Grindlay’s bass is sonorous and powerful, the two sopranos, Janet Youngdahl and Julie Harris, clear and precise, and Gian Paolo Fagotto’s tenor decisive with an excellent sense of the period style and ornamentation. The accompaniment by David Dolata, Victor Coelho, and Neil Cockburn is tasteful and with the variations of chordal accompaniments in the arias that keep things moving forward without sacrificing the important contemplative textual meaning that Kapsberger needs to emerge. In short, this is one recording that anyone interested in Roman music of the early 17th century must have. It is a sensitive, resonant, and effective collection that demonstrates the musical genius of the composer. – Bertil van Boer

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