Luzzaschi Il concerto segreto Ricercar RIC455

Luzzasco Luzzaschi (c1545-1607)
Il Concerto Segreto
La Néréide
rec. 2022, Église Notre-Dame, Centeilles, France
Texts and translations included
Reviewed as a stereo 16/44 download with PDF booklet from Naxos
Ricercar RIC 455 [60]

The name of Luzzasco Luzzaschi is well-known from encyclopaedias, books on music history and liner-notes of recordings. His music is far less known, and doesn’t appear that often on disc. In his time he was universally admired, and inspired several composers of the next generation, among them such different figures as Gesualdo and Monteverdi.

Luzzaschi is mostly associated with the madrigal, but he was educated as an organist. He acted as such in the service of Alfonso II d’Este in Ferrara, where he was born and worked all his life. It was in his capacity as organist that he made a name for himself. His contemporary Vincenzo Galilei ranked him among the best organists of his time. He had one particularly famous pupil: Girolamo Frescobaldi. It is interesting to note that the latter was inspired by Luzzaschi’s madrigals in his toccatas. In the prologue to his first collection of toccatas (1615) he indicates how they should be played: “[This] manner of playing should not be fixed to the beat, as is usual in modern madrigals, which, though difficult, are lightened by the aid of rhythm, making it now slow now fast or, even, held suspended according to the emotion or sentiment of the words”.

Frescobaldi was a representative of the modern style, the seconda pratica. Various of his colleagues referred to Luzzaschi as their source of inspiration. They had every reason to do so. It is true that Luzzaschi’s madrigals are polyphonic in texture, and belong to the era of the prima pratica. However, one could also consider him a trailblazer for the new style which would emerge in the early 17th century. In Ferrara, he often performed madrigals with the Concerto delle Donne, an ensemble of three ladies whose singing was the talk of the time. Some of the most famous composers and poets expressed their admiration for their singing. They were not only involved in the performance of madrigals, alongside other singers, but they also performed music specifically written or arranged for them. Luzzaschi published a book of pieces which they used to sing, and there we find virtuosic embellishments not unlike those which came into vogue in the early 17th century.

Around 1600 various debates took place between representatives of the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ style. It is remarkable and telling for Luzzaschi’s status that he was admired by representatives of both ‘sides’ in the debate. One of the most outspoken admirers was Carlo Gesualdo who never felt attracted to the monodic style as propagated by the likes of Caccini and Monteverdi. It was especially Luzzaschi’s command of counterpoint and his ability to express the emotion of a text which inspired him. A friend of his wrote that Gesualdo told him that “he has abandoned that first style and is busy imitating Luzzasco, so loved and esteemed by him”.

If one listens to the madrigals for one to three voices performed by La Néréide, it is easy to understand why many of his peers were so impressed. Each detail of the text is painstakingly and effectively translated into the music. Musical figures, harmony – including dissonances – and the treatment of tempo (accellerandi, rallentandi) are all used for reasons of expression. To that Luzzaschi adds virtuosic ornamentation, such as passaggi, diminutions, cadenzas and trills. These appear in the pieces for two and three voices, and even more so in the solo madrigals, where the singer is on her own and can do what she likes. Those who know the instrumental music from the early 17th century, will recognize many of its features in these madrigals, which confirms Luzzaschi’s status as a trailblazer of the stile nuovo.

The title of this disc needs some explanation. His employer was so proud of his singers and what Luzzaschi composed for them, that – apart from his family – only a few were allowed to listen to their performances. He also put under lock and key the music that they performed. It was only after his death that Luzzaschi felt free to publish some of that repertoire. This has resulted in the collection of 1601 that is the main source of this recording.

The singers are accompanied by instruments. This is in line with Luzzaschi’s instruction: “per cantare e sonare”. This is more than a mere suggestion: the scores include written-out instrumental parts. This is another unique feature of this collection, as at the time Luzzaschi composed these pieces – before the death of his employer in 1597 – madrigals were always published for voices only. If they were performed with instruments, that was the choice of the performers.

The collection includes twelve pieces, which are all recorded here. In addition, we get some pieces by composers of a later generation. The most famous of them is Claudio Monteverdi. Come dolce hoggi l’auretta is taken from a posthumous publication of 1651, which is known as his ninth book of madrigals. It is a kind of anthology of the eighth book with some new pieces. The piece included here is what has been left of Monteverdi’s lost opera Proserpina rapita of 1630.

Francesca Caccini is of the same generation as Monteverdi. She was the elder daughter of Giulio Caccini, one of the main promoters of the new style. She composed an opera, La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola di Alcina (1625), which includes several pieces for three sopranos: a trio of the three sirens (Le tre sirene), a chorus of the maidens (Coro di damigelle) and a chorus of enchanted trees (Coro delle piante incantate). This is a nice addition to the programme, which attests to the connection between the madrigal and opera. Obviously, there are differences, in that some elements are more dynamic, due to the dramatic context, than the madrigals. It is well worth investigating Paul Van Nevel’s recording of this opera (deutsche harmonia mundi, 2018).

There have been some fine recordings of this collection by Luzzaschi in the past, but I don’t know if these are still available. Even so, this new recording is highly recommendable. The singing of the three ladies – Camille Allérat, Julie Roset and Ana Vieira Leite –  is impressive. This is technically demanding repertoire, which is not easy to perform, but they succeed with flying colours. It is essential that the many details in Luzzaschi’s setting of the texts are realized to the full, and that is the case here. There is a big contrast in content and mood between Io mi son giovinetta (I am a maiden and laugh and sing in the spring) and the ensuing Occhi del pianto mio (Eyes of my weeping, cause of my bitter and cruel torment, I beg you now, let me die), and in both cases the performers hit the nail on the head. An important tool of singers at the time was the messa di voce. That has not been overlooked by the singers on this disc. The three instrumentalists do a fine job as well: Manon Papasergio on harp and bass viol, Gabriel Rignol on the archlute and Yoann Moulin at the harpsichord.

If you purchase this disc, you certainly will not regret it and regularly return to it. This is an impressive revival of the art of the Concerto delle donne.

Johan van Veen

Help us financially by purchasing from

Presto Music
Arkiv Music

Luzzasco Luzzaschi
T’amo mia vita
O dolcezze amarissime d’Amore
Stral pungente d’Amore
Aura soave
Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
Come dolce hoggi l’auretta (SV 173)
Francesca Caccini (1587-1641)
La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola di Alcina: 
Le tre sirene
Luzzasco Luzzaschi
Deh vieni ormai cor mio
Troppo ben può
Cor mio deh non languire
Ch’io non t’ami cor mio
Non sa che sia dolore
Luca Marenzio (1553/54-1599)
Belle ne fe’ natura
Luzzasco Luzzaschi
O Primavera
Francesca Caccini
La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola di Alcina: 
Le tre damigelle
Luzzasco Luzzaschi
Io mi son giovinetta
Occhi del pianto mio
Francesca Caccini
La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola di Alcina: 
Coro delle piante incantate