Fabio Bonizzoni’s instinct for honing in on the music of the great Baroque composers, such as Bach and Handel, and finding each time a fresh and inspirational response (proving once more, if needed, their greatness), now turns to two contrasting Italian masters in two separate recordings released on Glossa, which are devoted to the music of Antonio Vivaldi and Girolamo Frescobaldi.
As the director of La Risonanza, Bonizzoni has demonstrated a rare understanding for the ever-evolving nature of Handel’s response to changing working stimuli. Even considering the footloose habits of musicians in the 17th and 18th centuries, the capacity of the Halle-born Handel to flit from Protestant Germany to Catholic Italy and then to embrace both the English choral tradition of Purcell, Blow and Croft, whilst simultaneously indulging the English nobility in their growing taste for Italian opera, was all quite extraordinary. In recent years, Fabio Bonizzoni has been on something of a musical journey himself, including performing and studying at the Abbaye du Royaumont in the Val d’Oise in France.
Now he marshals La Risonanza, together with vocal soloists, Yetzabel Arias Fernández, Martín Oro and Sergio Foresti, to address the music of a serenata – or dramatic cantata – by Vivaldi about the festive River Seine running through Paris: La Senna festeggiante (Michael Talbot’s fascinating booklet essay explains how Vivaldi came to write such a piece).
Bonizzoni also has an innate response to the depths of Italian musical expression as a keyboard player (his formative studying was, after all, spent on the harpsichord and organ wit Ton Koopman). So, there is no better musical direction for Bonizzoni’s journey to head off towards than the music of Girolamo Frescobaldi (hailing from Ferrara), a composer as celebrated in his age for his keyboard music as Claudio Monteverdi was for his vocal compositions. To see whether that judgement still holds value in the 21st century, we just have to hear Fabio Bonizzoni’s exposition of these two books of toccatas and partitas, those played on a copy of an Italian harpsichord and those on the organ of the Basilica di Santa Barbara in Mantua (an instrument harbouring a mystery, as recounted in the booklet notes).
By way of an introduction to both his new Frescobaldi and Vivaldi recordings Fabio Bonizzoni here touches upon certain key issues regarding his Italian musical forebears.
Frescobaldi’s keyboard music is regarded very highly by keyboard players – and considered to be as important as the vocal music of Monteverdi. Would you agree and, after playing and recording this music yourself, why do you think that this is the case?
I absolutely agree. And not only because Monteverdi has written the most beautiful madrigals exactly as Frescobaldi has written the most beautiful toccatas, but also because there is a close link between madrigals by Monteverdi and toccatas by Frescobaldi. They both – with a different medium, of course – have translated into music pure sentiments of life. Music for a vocal ensemble or for a keyboard, such as a harpsichord cannot be written in a more efficient way to move the listener. It is Frescobaldi himself who tells us that he has composed his toccatas “imitating” the modern vocal madrigals and he uses the same principles of harmony, differences and variety of speed, suspensions of the tactus, that Monteverdi uses. I often say that Frescobaldi’s toccatas are madrigals without words, but not without a dramatic story to tell and I think that an inspired performer has to search for the exact meaning of the “hidden” or “not declared” text in these compositions if he wants to really involve his listener.
How important in the Toccatas and Partitas of Frescobaldi is the use of rhythmical freedom? How far can you go?
It’s one of the keys for a correct interpretation. And by correct I mean an interpretation that can move, because this is the point of this music. As long as the language is understandable, I don’t think there are real boundaries for this freedom.
The score that you used for the Second Book of Toccatas, is of the 1637 edition and held in Royaumont. Were you playing directly from this physical artefact when you made the recording, or what help did it provide your interpretation?
To be honest, playing concretely from that book would only have given extra troubles as, for example, you cannot really open it completely on the harpsichord music stand! Therefore, I had it just next to me as a kind of inspirational object – and of course I have been checking the correct musical text at every single step of the recording.
In a general sense, what do the most attractive serenatas offer, musically and for the listener? How is this manifested in Vivaldi’s La Senna festeggiante?
Serenatas were concert pieces and this is why they mostly are very balanced in the musical expression and variety. What they lack, sometimes, is a strong libretto. Possibly the major exception of this is Handel’s Aci, Galatea e Polifemo which has a great libretto on a fantastic story. Other pieces, like La Senna festeggiante, for instance, do not have a real plot to tell. But the composer, aware of that, can “just” compose the most attractive music he wants to please his listeners, not being forced by dramatic situations or developments. The Senna has another major point: it is an Italian composition written for a French – or partly French – audience. And Vivaldi pleases his French audience by inventing an idiom which is a mixture of Italian and French styles, a unique combination for a unique result. The flamboyance of his best-known style is all there, in some movements, but in others he shows himself able to explore the typical French élégance, dance feeling and deep expressiveness.
In recent years Vivaldi’s secular vocal music has been receiving much greater attention, from singers and ensembles alike. What are the attractions of such vocal music?
When we perform a concert programme which puts Vivaldi alongside with, for example, Handel, we – I and my musicians – are always amazed by the few “tools” Vivaldi uses in comparison to other composers and, at the same time, by the efficacy of them. He is really capable, with the minimum apparent effort, to achieve the greatest effects. This is why his music is so effective for the audience: it’s so simple to like it! Toward the voice, I think, he has different attitudes, but in his best moments he can write very simple lines which are, once more, very effective. Of course he, a bit like Bach rather than like Handel, in that he tends to write for the voice as it were an instrument, but this never results in an artificial use of the voice. I think this is particularly true in his operas and in mature and well worked out pieces like, for instance, La Senna festeggiante.
MARK WIGGINS © 2012 Glossa Music / Note 1 Music