Etcetera's Canta Venetia! features soprano María Luz Álvarez and period instrument guitarist in a program of Venetian songs from roughly 1620 to 1650, representing the second generation of Italian composers dealing in accompanied melody, including some of the most distant, preserved ancestors of modern folk and popular songs. Indeed, the program opens with the music of a teen idol, Domenico Obrizzi, whose slim, surviving output appeared in print when he was just 14; unfortunately, he wouldn't achieve much past that, as he is believed to have perished in a strain of plague that swept through Venice in 1629. These composers were not the followers of Monteverdi -- whose music dominated both the Venetian cathedrals and opera stages of the day -- but of Giulio Caccini, whose efforts in opera ultimately took a backseat to his prolific and influential efforts in accompanied song. Although lute players might find the name of Francesco Corbetta known to them, just about everything else in this program is completely unfamiliar and most of it never before recorded.
Álvarez sings in a pure, pristine, unaffected soprano voice with a very light vibrato and doesn't go in for a lot of sticky concitato or other vocal special effects often used to ornament such literature. Accompanist Lex Eisenhardt switches between chitarra spagnuola and chitarra battente, both arcane forms of the guitar, and contributes a number of short pieces by Corbetta and Giovanni Paolo Foscarini to help the various groups of songs stand out from one another. From the standpoint of sound and mixing, producer Jean van Vugt has done a very good job of piloting this project. The solo passages for guitar have wider, closer perspective in solo passages than in pieces with the voice, helping reflect what the ear would tend to pick out in a live context and providing a further bit of variety in a program of music that is stylistically very similar. However, the program is never boring and makes for a rather relaxing listen; the Venetian texts are suitably entertaining in themselves for their overwrought emotionalism and purple passions.
It is surprising to hear how coincidentally similar some of the chord progressions and other features of this early seventeenth century pop sounds like contemporary pop. Check out, for example, some of the inverted seventh chords in Giovanni Pietro Berti's "Su, su lieti" thankfully, Eisenhardt has found a short Corbetta piece that utilizes some of the same harmonic devices to precede it. Canta Venetia! is a very well made recording of a generally terrific program of early Venetian pop songs, and it is easily one of the best recitals of its kind. More of the same from Álvarez and Eisenhardt would definitely be welcome.