MusicWeb review: Valente

Valente: Intavolatura de Cimbalo

Antonio VALENTE (c1520 - c1580)
Intavolatura de cimbalo
Fabio Falcone (harpsichord, virginal)
Ensemble L'Amorosa Caccia
rec. 2017, Eglise Sainte-Charles Borromée, Avusy, Switzerland

Antonio Valente was one of the first keyboard virtuosos in music history who published pieces by his own hand. He can be considered one of the founders of the Neapolitan keyboard school, with which also the names of Giovanni de Macque, Giovanni Maria Trabaci an Ascanio Mayone are connected. One aspect is of special importance: the pieces in the Intavolatura di cimbalo are notated in a tablature which Valente had developed himself, and which Frat'Alberto Mazza de Napoli, Dominican monk and author of the preface, claimed to give every amateur the opportunity to play the pieces within a couple of months, without the help of a teacher. Taking into account the virtuosity of many pieces, which undoubtedly reflect the composer's own skills, this claim has to be refuted.

As Naples was under Spanish rule, it can hardly surprise that Spanish influence is notable in Valente's music. First of all, his tablature system was based on Spanish organ tablatures. In them every note was given a number (unlike in German tablatures, which used letters). Stylistically he was inspired by the recercadas which Diego Ortiz had published in his Trattado de glosas, printed in Rome in 1553. Ortiz worked in Naples from the end of the 1550s until his death (1570). A further feature of Valente's keyboard oeuvre is that he was probably the first who explicitly conceived the pieces in this book for the harpsichord, basically excluding the organ. Although it probably goes too far to say that these pieces cannot be played at the organ, most of them would not fare that well on another instrument than a stringed keyboard, such as the harpsichord or the virginal, the latter being one of the instruments Fabio Antonio Falcone uses in the present recording.

The Intavolatura di cimbalo includes a wide variety of pieces, some of them in a more or less 'learned' style, dominated by counterpoint, others of a more 'popular' nature. The latter category includes dances, the former pieces such as fantasia and recercata. The disc opens with the only fantasia of the collection, which may be the first which has ever appeared in print. All but one of the recercatas have several subjects. In contrast, the pieces called tenore are based on a single motif in the left hand which is consistently repeated - with minor alterations - from beginning to end. Pieces over a basso ostinato are based on the same principle; examples are Bascia flammignia and La romanesca.

Valente is also one of the first who composed diminutions on secular subjects; considering the popularity of madrigals and chansons at the time one can count them among the 'popular' part of the collection. It was a good idea of Falcone to include the original vocal pieces and perform them with a mixture of singers and instruments. Valente's Chi la dirra is based on Adrian Willaert's chanson Qui la dira, whereas Pisne diminuita is an arrangement of the chanson Pis ne me peut venir by Thomas Crecquillon. Philippe de Monte was also famous for his chansons; Valente included two different arrangements of his Sortez mes pleurs (Sortemeplus con alcuni fioretti, Sortemeplus disminuita).

Lastly we find some dances in this collection. These are stylised dances, not intended to accompany dancers, although it probably cannot be excluded that they were used as such. It seems Falcone takes this possibility into account in that he decided to perform some of them with additional instruments. The tracks 8 to 10 are performed here as a kind of cycle: Lo ballo dell'intorcia, Gagliarda lombarda and Ballo lombardo. The harpsichord is joined here by a recorder and two viole da gamba. Whether or not this is in line with Valente's intentions, it works very well and these pieces are given an excellent performance.

That goes for the entire disc. Falcone is an outstanding player who delivers captivating interpretations on the two instruments he has chosen for this recording. The harpsichord is a copy of an instrument of 1531, built in Venice by Alessandro Trasuntino, and a copy of a virginal which is also from Venice and dates from around 1550. The pitch is a=440 Hz, the temperament 1/4 comma meantone. It is also a joy to listen to the instrumentalists, and the two singers have captured the character of the vocal items perfectly. Both singers have very fine voices, but it is a shame that Marcos García Gutiérrez is a little overshadowed by Giulia Valentini.

Valente is not a household name, and few lovers of early keyboard music will own a recording of this collection. If you have the fine recording by Rebecca Maurer (Christophorus, 2009) and whose extensive liner-notes I have used for this review, you may consider adding this new recording to your collection. Because of the instrumental performance of some items, the inclusion of the vocal originals of the diminutions and the use of a virginal alongside the harpsichord, this disc is a nice alternative to Maurer's performances.


Johan van Veen