by Monica Hall for Lute News, newsletter of the Lute Society (UK) Number 88, December 2008
This is a delightful and original selection of music for the festive season. It includes a mix of well-known carols and not-so-familiar vocal pieces appropriate to Advent and Christmas combined with aptly chosen lute solos, mostly dating from the earlier part of the 16th century. The highlights include Tromboncino's setting of Petrarch's 'Vergine bella', rather less well known than that of Dufay perhaps but just as moving, and arrangements of two motets by Victoria, 'Ne timeas Maria' and 'Magi viderunt stellam' for voice with lute accompaniment in the best tradition of the vihuelistas.
Stewart has a beautifully pure, almost choirboy like soprano. The opening track, 'Veni, Emanuel', in two parts presumably created by multi-tracking, sets a mood of introspective calm which prevails throughout. Stewart's ornamentation of the vocal line in Victoria's 'Ne timeas, Maria' is exquisite and her interpretation of Tromboncino brings out the intensity of religious devotion, bu also subdued passion inherent in Petrarch's poetry. Some of the more traditional numbers, such as 'The Angel Gabriel' and 'Josef, lieber, Josef mein' could perhaps have been a bit livelier to make a contrast but overall the performances are flawless with such perfect clarity of diction that reference to any liner notes is superfluous. The lute solos include original pieces by Francesco da Milano, Marco dal l'Aquila and Dalza together with skillful and convincing arrangements of an anonymous English 'In nomine' and Victoria's motet 'Duo Seraphim'. The original version of the latter is unusually but appropriately scored for S.S.A.A., the voices being paired in a way that suggests the two seraphim crying out to one another. I wasn't sure whether the arrangement was actually for two Ron Andricos, or just one managing some very elaborate counterpoint but either way the piece was worked very convincingly. Andrico plays two different lutes, one in E and the other in G, as far as I could make out the smaller one being used for the solo work and the larger to accompany. The smaller one has a particularly appealing tone quality.
The liner notes which come with the CD are very brief, supplying the words and translations of the vocal pieces only if the original is not in English. There is a note saying that full texts and programme notes are available on the duo's website although I couldn't find these when I visited it. However it seems that they were the victims of a particularly nasty carjacking in which a large number of their CDs were stolen and are now being offered for sale by dodgy outlets. So if you decide to purchase it, it would be best to do so through a reputable source.
The CD would make the ideal Christmas gift for lutenists and anyone who prefers to celebrate the season of peace and goodwill far from the madding crowd of commercialism.
...As a jaded and sated holiday listener, I am drawn to anything lacking in kitsch, and there is nothing I've heard this season further from the manufactured art of American Christmas than Duo Seraphim. Surely, this is listening to holiday music without listening to "holiday music".
There are a lot of ways to get at the holiday spirit; Duo Seraphim has chosen the road less traveled, putting together a unique and substantial collection of latinesque works, adorned only with voice and lute.
(Reviewed in 2008)
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
The Christmas season holds a special place in our hearts. It is a time of wonder and rejoicing, of stillness and reflection on the most miraculous of births. For centuries, the image of angels proclaiming the birth of Christ with voice and instruments has been etched into our consciousness, and this was the basis for our selection of music for this recording.
Our theme is unapologetically sacred, even Marian. On the surface, many of the lute solos appear to have no particular association with Christmas but they were carefully selected to set or prolong the mood of the songs. Indeed, the term 'carol' originally described a vocalized music for dance that was eventually embraced by the Church and adapted to fit sacred texts and purposes. It is in this spirit that we include the 'Piva', a traditional shepherd's dance.
While most of the lute solos on this recording are from historical sources, the songs are without exception our own arrangements. Where the settings are from part-music, we follow the historical practice of adapting the lower voices for the lute. Where a song either lacked a suitable accompaniment or needed stylistic reconstruction, we used our imagination.
We dedicate this recording to our many friends and supporters, and hope that it heightens the spirit of the season.
Veni Emanuel is a deservedly well-known Advent hymn that is found in many modern arrangements. It's text is found in Advent antiphons that predate Charlemagne, and was probably adapted to include the familiar refrain later in the 12th century. Our setting includes a second part, possibly dating from the 13th century, constituting an early example of organum.
There is no rose was once attributed to John Dunstaple. This macaronic (English/Latin) three-part Marian carol is from an early 15th century manuscript of carols, now in the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge. Our performance assigns the lower voices to the lute.
The Angel Gabriel is a Basque carol (Birjina gaztettobat zegoen), translated into English by Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924) and harmonized in this arrangement by Ron Andrico.
The Ricercar by Francesco da Milano (1497-1543) is taken from the Siena lute manuscript, a late sixteenth-century source for this composer. The introspective and textural piece is a fitting prelude to the Italian laude, Vergine Bella, with poetry by Petrarch and music by the infamous Bartolomeo Tromboncino (c. 1470 – 1535). Our unique version of this moving devotional song is arranged for voice and lute from the original four-part setting by Tromboncino.
The short Fantasia by Francesco da Milano introduces our settings for lute and voice of three seasonal motets by one of our favorite composers, Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611). Ne timeas, Maria, the Magnificat antiphon for the first Sunday in Advent, tenderly describes the Annunciation: the revelation to Mary by the Angel Gabriel that she would conceive a child.
Duo Seraphim, the title track for our CD, is presented as a duet for lutes, each lute playing two parts of this charming antiphonal dialogue between two angels. For this performance, Ron Andrico is joined by the mysterious figure, Orlando Pizzicato, on second lute. Magi viderunt stellam describes the three wise men following the star to offer gifts to the newborn Christ.
Taverner's In nomine is an anonymous lute setting from the late 16th century Marsh manuscript, a large collection of English lute instrumentals. This mediatative polyphonic piece is derived from a mass on the plainchant, Gloria Tibi Trinitas, by John Taverner, circa 1520. The phrase "in nomine Domini" appears in the four-voice Benedictus of the mass, with the plainchant melody in the alto. The uniquely English theme became the basis for instrumental variations and appears in several settings for lute and viols throughout the 16th and 17th centuries.
Let all mortal flesh keep silence is an Advent hymn that Donna has known and sung for most of her life. The melody is derived from the traditional French carol, 'Picardy', and the communion text is translated into English by Gerard Moultrie (1829-1885). Our unique arrangement and harmonization seems to bear slight differences each time we perform it.
The Ricercar by Marco dall'Aquila (c. 1470-1537) is a gentle piece, unique in that it is a very early example of lute music composed in what was later called the stile brise, a hallmark of French baroque music.
Josef lieber, Josef mein is a macaronic German carol that describes a conversation between Joseph and Mary as they care for their newborn infant. A justly popular carol, our version is based on that of Leonhardt Schroeter, 16th century German composer.
Es ist ein ros entsprungen is a beloved German carol that dates at least to the late-16th century. The melody appears in the Speyer Hymnal (Köln, 1599) and the best known harmonization is by Michael Praetorius, 1609. Our version is our own arrangement.
Entrée cinquiesme is from a 1611 print by the French lutenist and music publisher, Robert Ballard (c.1575-1649).
The Wexford Carol, known in Irish Gaelic as Carúl Loch Garman, is a traditional carol originating from County Wexford, Ireland, and is thought to be as old as the 12th century. Our version is performed a cappella with an anonymous English translation of the text.
The Piva is a shepherd's dance, typically played on a bagpipe. Joan Ambrosio Dalza included a handful of pivas in his 1508 publication for lute, which everyone knows is closely related to the bagpipe.
The Christ child lullaby is a traditional song from the Outer Hebrides, known as Taladh Chriosta in Scots Gaelic.
Auld lang syne is well known as a song of celebration at the turn of the new year, commemorating the year past. The poem was written by Robert Burns in 1788, and the melody is a traditional Scots tune (Roud 6294). Robert Burns sent a copy of the original song to the British Museum with this comment: "The following song, an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man's singing, is enough to recommend any air." (Gavin Grieg: "Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads") Our version is based on the lute setting from the Balcarres lute manuscript, circa 1690.
Program notes ©2008 Ron Andrico & Donna Stewart
All music and arrangements on this disc ©2008 Ron Andrico & Donna Stewart, Mignarda
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Mignarda - Donna Stewart and Ron Andrico - perform historical music that transcends history. One of the few professional lute song duos in the United States, their unique and immediate sound blends respect for authenticity with solid musicianship and a flair for improvisation. Their fresh and engaging approach imparts the immediacy of folk music to renaissance music.
The duo's CDs are winning critical acclaim. Reviewers have described their music as "radiant", "bewitching". and "laden with elegance". The Lute Society (UK) has called Rota Fortuna "essential listening". Divine Amarillis, their recording of French music from the early 17th century, was selected from a pool of 42,000 recordings for the award of first place for Best Album in the 2009 Just Plain Folks awards. Both Divine Amarillis and My Lord of Oxenford's Maske, their third release, have been selected as Choice CDs by Cleveland, Ohio's mainstream classical radio station WCLV. All three are included among CDBaby's top 40 best-selling classical CDs
Ron Andrico is a lute specialist with publication of several important music editions and scholarly articles to his credit. Mezzo soprano Donna Stewart has a long background in research and interpretation of Gregorian chant and the renaissance choral repertory. Together, the duo specialize in performing music that resides in the grey zone between folk and art music, with interpretations that follow the renaissance ideal of 'moving the passions' of the listener.
The couple met in Cleveland, Ohio while singing Gregorian chant and renaissance polyphony in a five-voice choir for a weekly Latin Mass. They have recently relocated to New York after an idyllic year living in a log cabin off the grid in the Siskiyou Mountains, where they produced their own electricity, cut their own firewood, and enjoyed the welcome opportunity to refine their music with only the songs of birds to compete with the soft sound of the lute. They now live in a handmade house in the woods in West Danby, New York, just south of Ithaca.
The Mignarda duo is unique in that their musical background mirrors that of the typical musician of the Renaissance: They bring the music to life because they live the music. Capturing the nuance and intricacy of early music with warmth and flair, Mignarda’s performances remind 21st century audiences that at one time this WAS pop music.