Musical Tour Cantar alla Viola Da Vinci C00888

A Musical Tour from Renaissance to Baroque
20 Years of Cantar alla Viola
Fernando Marìn (bowed vihuelas and viol), Nadine Balbeisi (soprano)
rec. 2023, Iglesia de Sant Jaume, Tivissa (Tarragona), Spain
Reviewed as a stereo 24/48 download with PDF booklet from Da Vinci Classics
Da Vinci Classics C00888 [67]

The reason for the release of the present disc is special, as we find out at the frontispiece: “20 Years of Cantar alla Viola”. There is something special about the ensemble as well; I know of no other which consists of just a singer and a player of low-string instruments. The soprano Nadine Balbeisi and Fernando Marín, who not only plays the viola da gamba, but is also a specialist on the bowed vihuela, explore a wide repertoire from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. This disc offers a survey of what they perform in concerts and on disc.

In 2017, Marín devoted his doctoral thesis to the bowed vihuela and demonstrated its sound and application in a recording of that same year (‘The Art of the Vihuela de Arco’; Da Vinci Classics). New Grove does not make any difference between the vihuela de arco and the fiddle. Marín believes that the former term refers to a specific form. He emphasizes that the vihuela de arco “was conceived in an era in which the sound of vocal polyphony and the timbre of the human voice were the ideal model, well before the independent development of instrumental music”. In the paragraph on ‘Sources for the musical practice of the vihuela de arco’ in the booklet to the disc mentioned above, he refers to Tinctoris, Ganassi and Diego Ortiz. Apparently, he believes that the vihuela de arco could be one of the instruments which the sources refer to as viola, and that it was used in Italy, despite its Spanish origins.

Performing polyphonic pieces in a mixture of voice(s) and instruments was a very common practice in the Renaissance. One way to do this was with a combination of one voice and one or several instruments. Fernando Marín, in his liner-notes, refers to Baldassare Castiglione and his book Il Cortegiano (The Book of the Courtier). “According to Castiglione, of all the styles of music for a courtier to practice, the best was to sing with a viola (cantare alla viola) for it enables one to appreciate “all the sweetness” that is found in the solo voice. One singer can give more attention to the “fine manner and the melody” and a “grace” to the words that is not possible with many singers.” In the performances by Cantar alla Viola, the instrumental parts are played on one instrument.

In addition to the vihuela de mano Fernando Marín plays the viola da gamba and, in particular in English repertoire, the lyra viol. “The harmonies of the instruments are sustained by using a special and refined bow technique, creating a sound that blends well with the human voice” (booklet). This is just one aspect of performance practice. Another one is that much attention is paid to the rhetorical aspects of performing music. Rhetoric was an important subject in treatises of the renaissance and baroque periods. A third aspect is that the performers use historical pronunciation – a practice that unfortunately is not generally applied in our time.

As one may have gathered by now, this ensemble has a unique place in the musical landscape. I have heard several of their recordings, and have mostly been impressed by the way the repertoire is performed. Nadine Albeisi is a very fine singer with a nice voice. She has a wide tessitura, which guarantees that the upper and lower notes come off equally well. Fernando Marín is an excellent player of the various string instruments, and he delivers a ‘vocal interpretation’.

As far as the repertoire is concerned, it covers a wide period, from the early 16th to the late 17th century. It is a mixture of pieces by well-known composers – Cabezón, Festa, Francesco da Milano – and lesser-known masters. Among the latter are Peñalosa, two of Francesco Caccini’s daughters, and the English composers Jones and Corkine. Johann Christoff Ziegler and Jakob Kremberg are virtually unknown quantities. About the former, I could not find any information (and the booklet omits any information about the programme). Kremberg was of Polish origin, worked in Magdeburg and acted as director of the Hamburg opera, before settling in England in 1697 at the latest.

The disc closes with two pieces whose performances may be the least easy to get used to: Purcell’s songs If music be the food of love and Music for a while. One may miss here a keyboard instrument or a lute. Whether this is in accordance with the performance practice in Purcell’s time, I don’t know, but given the variety with which the basso continuo was realised in the Baroque period, that may well be. Thought-provoking, it certainly is.

I have enjoyed this disc, which offers a compelling demonstration of a performance practice that is anything but common in our time. Let’s hope that these two artists will be able to continue their exploration of repertoire like what is performed here. It is regrettable that, apart from the lack of information about the repertoire, the lyrics are omitted. However, even without them, one can enjoy this disc.

Johan van Veen

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Presto Music


anon (c1530)
Ich komm aus fremden Landen
Antonio de Cabezón (1510-1566)
Para quien crié yo cabellos
Francisco de Peñalosa (c1470-1528)
El triste que nunca os vio
A tierras agenas
anon (16th C)
En una fuente
Juan Blas de Castro (1561-1631)
Para todos alegres
Si tus ojos divinos
Del cristal de mançanares
anon (16th C)
Meis olhos van per lo mare
Costanzo Festa (c1485-1545)
Se mai vedete amanti
Madonna io mi consumo
Francesco da Milano
Ricercare VII
Costanzo Festa
Altro non è’l mi’amor
Settimia Caccini (1591-c1638)
Due luci ridenti
Francesca Caccini (1587-c1641)
Maria, dolce Maria
Tobias Hume (c1579?-1645)
Loves Farewell
Robert Jones (c1577-1617)
Dreames and Imaginations
Love wing’d my hopes
Whither runneth my sweet hart
William Corkine (fl 1610-1617)
Shall a smile
Shall I be with joyes deceived?
Johann Christoff Ziegler (fl c1680)
Jakob Kremberg (1650-1715)
Mein treues Blut bleibt allzeit gut
Ich bin beständig allezeit
Bleib getreu und wancke nicht
Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
If music be the food of love (Z 379)
Music for a while (Z 583)