Giovanni Croce (1557-1609) was a popular composer in late 16. C Venice, providing 'occasional' music, performed in costumes and masks, which was just not published at the time. This CD is built from two collections which were presumably written for Croce's own 'party group' in Venice of singers from St. Mark's. As Robert Hollingworth says, "It's like seeing a 1595 edition of Spitting Image!" Their irreverent wit is a breath of fresh air after the more familiar diet of art madrigals and villanelles. The humour of the stock Italian masquerade characters is refreshingly crude and coarse, a change from the high blown ecstasies and laments of the usual madrigalian lovers.
The Venetian dialogue is inscrutable even for modern day Italians and the bilingual texts and English translations enhance the enjoyment of this splendidly illustrated production enormously.
The apt interludes for plucked instruments, transcribed from guitar and gittern solos of the time, and some arranged from unusual trios by Giovanni Pacoloni, are well placed to break up the hectic sequences of ribald amusement.
The performances are virtuosic in coping with the intricate rhythmic counterpoint required, and the singers are expert in characterising with different voices with great good humour. This music-theatre repertoire cries out for wider dissemination outside concerts for specialist Early Music audiences, and would lend itself ideally to DVD.
It had been a pleasure to see these gifted singers mime Il gioco dell'Occa, a game like Snakes & Ladders, at the Lucerne Festival, with the famous madrigal comedy, Orazio Vecchi's L'Amfiparnasso (1597) sung to accompany masked staging, and it was that live occasion which prompted me to explore this CD, which should give many collectors unexpected pleasure. A good one for Christmas.
Copyright © 2002, Peter Grahame Woolf