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S. Ganassi, D. Ortiz: Opere complete per Viola da Gamba
Bettina Hoffmann, viola da gamba, with Modo Antiquo. Tactus TC490701. 1998
Diego Ortiz and Sylvestro Ganassi are two of the most important names in the gamba's early history. Ganassi published his Regola Rubertina and Lettione seconda in 1542/3, and ten years later, the Trattado de Glosas by Ortiz was published in Rome. Of the two, Ortiz is probably better known, particularly for the "Ricercars on Italian Tenors", of which most viol students play one or two.
It is these pieces which begin this CD, and it is a good choice as they are tuneful and pleasant music. As with her other CDs (see review of Schenck) Miss Hoffmann varies her accompaniments, with the Recercarta prima featuring viol with organ, while the toe-tapping Recercata terza has an early guitar with the viol. The 9th ricercar, entitled Quinta pars is accompanied by viol consort to very good effect. Indeed her accompanying ensemble has a wide variety of possibilities, with harpsichord, organ, lute, guitar, and several viols, not to mention a quartet of singers. These are exploited creatively throughout this recording.
Following the nine ricercari, the two four-part vocal works are dealt with: firstly O felici occhi miei (Arcadelt) which is sung to the lute, with the four viol ricercars played in the published order. The second ricercar was written in treble clef, and so is played on treble viol. The chanson Doulce memoire (Sandrin) gets the same treatment, but with the singers accompanied by the viol consort.
These are followed by four ricercars for solo viol, and then six for viol on a ground. In all, Miss Hoffmann's playing is excellent. It would have been interesting to know what viols she performs on, though it does sound like a reasonably early model. On the back of the CD notes, we are only told "viola da gamba bassa e soprano". Some brief information in the notes about the renaissance viol would have been helpful as well.
Having played right through Book 2 of the Trattado, we come to Sylvestro Ganassi. The pieces here occur in his treatises, which are well worth reading. Ganassi really wrote the first proper treatises on how to play the viol, and in passing a lot of information about music of the early 16th century can be gleaned. A little note on the CD cover suggests that this is the first recording of these pieces.
The first four ricercari come from the Regola Rubertina. These works are rarely heard or played by most students, and could not be considered the finest of compositions, but they are of interest, particularly as Ganassi gives bowing and fingering directions. Often these are a little unorthodox and eccentric, but at this time the viol was very new, and a lot of experimentation is to be expected. Ganassi notates his pieces both on the great staff and in a tablature with improvements of his own devising! I turned to the modern edition of these pieces published by Ut Orpheus Edizioni, to find that they were edited by Miss Hoffmann.
All of the Ganassi pieces are for solo viol, with the exception at the end of his setting of Io vorei Dio d'amore, sung here by tenor Paulo Fanciullacci. Miss Hoffmann manages well to make these ricercari interesting. Ganassi's odd numbering of the ricercars is overcome by giving the references in the track listings.
I always think that the ordering of pieces on a CD is a very debatable issue. Here Miss Hoffmann keeps the Ortiz pieces together in their sections which is useful for students following the music, though the sections are in a different order from in the Trattado. I think I would have separated the two vocal works, perhaps putting the solo viol pieces between them, but then the next listener would probably put them in a different order again. The Ganassi pieces are also played in the order in which they appear in the treatises. I tend to think that keeping the pieces in their sections is probably a good idea on a CD with 38 tracks.
To the sleeve notes, and the cover shows the detail of a painting by Pordenone with 3 very chubby and surprisingly well-dressed cherubs appearing to wrestle a tenor viol, though other interpretations are possible. The notes by Miss Hoffmann are brief and in Italian with an English and a French translation. The English had a few typos and the odd turn of phrase, and I felt the notes could have been a little more extensive. No photos of the performers were featured, which is a shame. The back cover is devoted to the track listings and the performers' names.
To summarise, this CD is a most useful and pleasing addition to the viol recording scene, and deserves to be heard.