Sara Mingardo – Italian Laments at the Wigmore Hall
Sara Mingardo (contralto), Ivano Zanenghi (theorbo), Giorgio Dal Monte (harpsichord) – Wigmore Hall, London, live on BBC Radio 3, 11 May 2015
Listening link (opens in a new window):
on the iPlayer until 10 June
In case you cannot hear the broadcast, I have put together a Spotify playlist of most of the music in this concert, including recordings the artists have made where possible. The playlist can be found here
What’s the music?
Monteverdi (1567-1643): Quel sguardo sdegnosetto; Voglio di vita uscir, voglio che cadano (8 minutes)
Frescobaldi (1583-1643): Toccata Seconda (5 minutes)
Andrea Falconieri (1586-1656): Vezzosette e care pupillette; Non più d’amore (4 minutes)
Giacomo Carissimi (1605-1674): Deh memoria e che più chiedi? (7 minutes)
Alessandro Piccinini (1566-c1638): Toccata XX; Aria di sarabanda in varie partite (6 minutes)
Salvatore (early 1600s -1688): Allor che Tirsi udia (9 minutes)
Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677): L’Eraclito amoroso (6 minutes)
What about the music?
First, a bit about the voice and instruments in this concert. Sara Mingardo is a contralto singer – that is, lower than a soprano and a little bit lower and richer in colour than a mezzo-soprano. Think of a boy alto, add femininity and a lot of body to the sound and you have something approaching her voice.
In this concert she is accompanied by Giorgio Dal Monte, playing a harpsichord from the late seventeenth century, and Ivano Zanenghi, playing a theorbo. The theorbo is a variation on the lute – which, in case you didn’t know, is a very early equivalent to the guitar. This particular instrument is a recreation and has no fewer than thirteen strings! They are spread over two different frets, rather like the instrument pictured here (photo from Early Music Studio:
The music itself is all from the Renaissance and early Baroque periods in Italy. The only composer names likely to be familiar to listeners are Monteverdi and Frescobaldi, both pioneers in their expressive vocal music. The trio perform the music all together, save for a harpsichord solo (the Frescobaldi) and two pieces for the theorbo by Alessandro Piccinini. As you will hear the styles are particularly expressive, particularly in the laments – which most of these songs are.
If you have yet to see Sara Mingardo perform then I urge you to do so without delay. Everything about her concerts draws the audience in, from the carefully thought out programs to her irresistible performance manner. Everything is delivered with musical freedom, and – text allowing – a modest yet winning smile.
Yet of course the voice is the reason for experiencing Mingardo’s charms in person, for she has an incredibly rich sound especially to the lower register that is rare among singers. Even better, she knows just how to control it.
This concert was beautifully put together and executed, and the laments carried an almost painful intensity that reduced the Wigmore Hall audience to silence. They were countered by airy, improvisatory pieces for harpsichord (Frescobaldi) and theorbo (Piccini) which were stylishly played by Giorgio Dal Monte and Ivano Zanenghi respectively.
This was very much a voyage of discovery, a reminder of just how intense Italian vocal music of the Renaissance and early Baroque periods can be.
What should I listen out for?
1:34 – Quel sguardo sdegnosetto (A message) This song begins with an amiable figure on harpsichord and theorbo. The rhythms have a gentle lilt and the voice, rich and luxurious, uses melisma – which is a form of writing where a single word is spread over a large number of notes.
4:32 – Voglio di vita uscir, voglio che cadano (I want to leave this life, if by loving you I have offended you) A sprightly second song, cheery in spite of its subject matter. Towards the end it takes on sombre colouring as the harpsichord is replaced by the softer tones of the theorbo, and Mingardo sings ‘S’apre la tomba, il mio morir t’annutio’ (‘The tomb opens, I proclaim my death to you’). The control from Mingardo at the end is heartfelt and exquisite.
10:58 – This solo harpsichord piece becomes progressively more elaborate as it progresses. It is not rigid in tempo, which makes it sound improvised, and eventually the writing for right hand sounds like a waterfall of notes.
17:00 – Vezzosette e care pupillette (Bewitching and beloved sparkling eyes) Quite an elaborate theorbo introduction, and Mingardo uses a swooning vocal style here, especially when the text is repeated.
19:48 – Non più d’amore (No more wooing) Another very expressive though song which finds Mingardo in the upper part of her range.
21:26 – Deh, memoria (Say, memory) – a slow introduction reveals the rich tone of Mingardo’s lower range. This is a profound song written in the pain of another’s death, and Mingardo gives a powerful and emotive performance, shadowed beautifully and stylishly by the harpsichord and theobo. The song is especially profound at the end, returning to the singer’s lower range.
29:26 – Toccata XX. This begins almost as though the player was tuning up, with a very relaxed approach. Piccinini makes use of the lowest notes on the theorbo, which gives the music an expansive quality.
31:54 – Aria di Sarabanda in varie partite. The Aria sets out a short loop of music over which there are progressively more complicated variations, rather in the vein of Pachelbel’s Canon which was to follow a number of years later. Some of the variations go up quite high on the instrument.
36:25 – All’hor che Tirsti (When Thyrsis heard) In this declamatory song Sara Mingardo seems to be shaking a fist at the ‘Crudi fati, astri malvagi’ (‘Cruel fates, evil stars’). The accompaniment is initially for harpsichord only, the theorbo making a notable appearance at asdr when Mingardo sings ‘Et tu, caro ben mio’ (‘And you, my dear beloved’). Then she alternates between anger and a deeply mournful tone, with which this extremely expressive song ends.
44:36 – L’Eraclito amoroso (Hear, lovers) There is a florid accompaniment to more cursing of bad fortune. The sobbing nature of melodic writing when Mingardo sings ‘I singulti mi sanano’ (‘Sobs are my healing balm’) is striking. Towards the end Mingardo sings ever so slightly flat, deliberately accentuating the sorrow felt by the subject of the song, before finishing on an extremely low note.
52:31 – Tarquinio Merula (1594-1665) – Folle e ben che si crede. A more relaxed air to this encore, the voice floating on the higher notes. There is a lovely transition where Mingardo arcs gracefully up to a higher note at the end.
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