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  40:1 (09-10 /2016)
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Reviewer: Barry Brenesal


First glances are deceiving. Although entitled Il due Orfei, nothing from either setting by Giulio Caccini or Jacopo Peri of Rinuccini’s libretto to Euridice figures onto this album. Instead, the title is meant in a florid, Renaissance Italian sense, as effusive praise for the singing and composing skills of a modern musician by way of comparison to the legendary Orpheus.

What we get on this album are 20 selections, three of them instrumentals. Of the other 17, fully 11 are songs, mostly strophic, quite a few of these lighthearted and in the monophonic vein reflective of a popular style. The remaining six selections are dramatic recitatives in the turn of the 17th century Florentine sense of the word, a musically heightened speech “rejecting every other type of song heard up to now,” to quote Peri’s confident preface to his Euridice. These point forward to the magnificent recitatives that would turn up in Monteverdi’s extent operas.

The division of effort on this release is not so clear-cut, however. Peri’s Al fonte, al prato and Tra le donne onde s’onora are simple, tripping strophic songs one would typically associate with Caccini, while Caccini’s A quel sospir ardenti and Pien d’amoroso affetto are Peri-like recitatives, if lacking in some of the dissonance and far-flung tonal shifts of the latter. As noted above, the composers’ respective operas entitled Euridice figure nowhere; however, an interesting essay by Zygmunt Szweykowski (published in Musica Iagellonica in 2011) provides numerous examples of musical analysis and comparison between music at identical points in these operas that would have made for good contrast. The one instance where the CD does present a single poem set as recitatives by both Peri and Caccini—Tutto ‘l di piango, published in 1609 by Peri and in 1614 by Caccini—they are not juxtaposed, but placed on either side of seven cuts. So, while this album features the music of the two composers, not only does it ignore their strongly differing approaches to the affective aspect of monophonic writing, it goes out of its way to avoid any comparison. What we are left with, instead, is an entertaining program of mostly strophic songs with some dramatic recitatives that are meant to display the art of Marc Mauillon.

I’ve enjoyed listening to Mauillon in a couple of previous reviewed releases, Machaut’s Mon chant vous envoy (Eloquentia 1342) and Blow’s Venus and Adonis (Alpha 703). In the latter I referred to him employing “a dry, light baritone. It is not an especially attractive voice, but he expressively and clearly enunciates the text, and phrases particularly well.” I’ve since seen him described repeatedly as a baritone and just as often as a tenor, though I suspect a high-lying baritone, a baryton-martin, would be most accurate. He’s much closer to the microphone than in either of those earlier albums, and surrounded by a lightly reinforcing reverberance, which adds size and brings out effectively the color in his tone. But the most impressive thing on this album isn’t his tone, or even his enunciation and phrasing. It is his vocal agility. Neither Machaut nor Blow give Mauillon much of a chance to show this, but Caccini was famed for the elegance and beauty of his elaborate ornamentation and figures—which he wrote out in full in his publications, some of which can viewed in facsimile online. (Peri refused to publish his, averring they would be lifeless if they weren’t duplicated properly.) Mauillon takes these works at appropriately varied tempos; and if the embellishments of A quel sospir ardenti surprise with their variety, complete accuracy, and ease in the face of great difficulty, it’s perhaps the much faster strophic works, which trade off the most intricate ornamentation for virtuosity of another, more complex sort, that delight the most. Mentre che fra doglie e pene (which I’ve heard on several, similar programs, live and on disc) and the light-as-air Odi, Euterpe are of this type, and performed with charm.

Marc Mauillon is accompanied on all these selections by his sister, Angélique, who also has three solos of her own: two by Luzzaschi, and one by Piccinini. She shows herself a fine harpist in these works that function as points of meditation between the theatrics, comically teasing and heavily despairing, of Caccini and Peri. They are all performed with good tone and perfect evenness. Luzzaschi’s Toccata del quarto tono is especially notable for its flexible handing of rhythm.

High marks to this release, then, though its timings are on the short side, and it misses chances to work comparisons between its bitterly rival composers in an opera they both set. Several of the selections offer as fine a series of examples of heavily ornamented singing, tossed off effortlessly, as I have ever heard, and that goes all the way back to the recordings of such notable tenor coloraturists as de Lucia and Jadlowker. It also gives some sense of the compositional stature of Peri and Caccini—better in the latter case, than either version of his Euridice (Ricercar 299; Naïve 30552) that I’ve reviewed in these pages, given Marc Mauillon’s mix of dramatic insight and technique. Enthusiastically recommended.

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