FANFARE (USA) August 2014
Marco Marazzoli is a composer with whom I’ve only a passing acquaintance, mainly just as a passing reference. A contemporary of composers Luigi Rossi and Stefano Landi, he was a cleric in Rome in the service of the Barberini family. Born in Parma, he was ordained a priest about 1625 and accompanied Landi and others on the various perambulations of his patron, Cardinal Antonio Barberini, eventually obtaining the post of private secretary or chamber adjutant. By 1642 he was composing operas for Venice, eventually winding up in Paris where he wrote music for Anne of Austria. Returning to Italy, he resumed his career as an opera composer, writing works that, among other things, honored the notorious Swedish Queen Christina’s arrival in Rome (and of course this involved her eventual relationship with Cardinal Barberini, about which much scandalous rumor-mongering occurred). He apparently had a major accident during the celebration of Mass in 1662 which took his life.
His music is not entirely missing from the recording repertory, since several oratorios, including Vanitas Vanitatum and San Tomaso , are available, the last on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi performed by the Cantus Cölln. Several cantatas are also on disc. One I am familiar with is a recording of Roman cantatas by Nella Anfuso on Stilo Nuovo, and the celebratory opera L’armi e gli amori for Queen Christina has appeared on a Nuova Era disc. This disc, whose title— Occhi belli, occhi neri —is taken from a “strofetta” extoling the beauty of dark, enticing eyes that seduce and beguile, is a compendium of various smaller bits and pieces, both vocal and instrumental. These include two canzonas by his colleague Cherubino Waesich (1600–1650), which are smoothly flowing if brief bits of counterpoint, the antecedents of the church sonata. Marazzoli’s two works are entitled “sinfonia,” but are in reality short dance-like instrumental movements for strings that seem to evoke the stately suites of Biagio Marini, also a contemporary. They are mainly homophonic with the dance rhythms clear and unambiguous without harmonic pretension. In other words, these are professional Gebrauchsmusik or the period. Of the vocal works, the dialogue between Rosinda and Olindo harkens back to a more monodic style in which the two lovers bandy the eternal question of love back and forth before uniting in a very lovely duet reminiscent of the final number of Monteverdi’s Poppea (which of course is not by Monteverdi). There are momentary diminished chords which herald a new sense of harmony, but in general Marazzoli sticks to the pure parallel thirds. The aria “Mi fate pur ridere” is a light, frothy, and sometimes rollicking song in which the voice almost laughs around the line accompanied only by a reluctant continuo with theorbo and gamba. It is positively chirpy, showing that Marazzoli was far from being a staid and conventional composer-priest, but rather gives an idea that he truly loved life.
The performances by both Soledad de la Rosa and Nora Tabbush are quite lovely. Their voices are in perfect control, no matter the Affekt , and both have nice, clear tones that are precisely in tune. Ensemble Mare Nostrum is discrete in its accompaniment, always with taste and a good sense of tempo. I find that the recording quality emphasizes the intimacy of these obvious chamber works, which allows the listener to become fully involved in the text and music. The notes by Davide Daolmi are also excellent in integrating Marazzoli’s music into his story. In short, this is a disc that early Baroque music collectors will want to have in their collections. It will hopefully inspire a further exploration of Marazzoli’s delightful music.