Soleil Noir: Arias written by and for Francesco Rasi—Emiliano Gonzalez Toro (tenor), I Gemelli—Naïve V5473—51 minutes—*****:
Emiliano Gonzalez Toro’s ensemble I Gemelli has recorded an album featuring arias written for, and once performed by, Francesco Rasi, who was active all over Europe, but for us today, is likely most famous for performing for Claudio Monteverdi and leaving us annotated scores of his performances. This album, then, features a number of “hits” from a diverse of early Italian composers, including Rasi himself, Monteverdi, Caccini, da Gagliano, del Biado, D’India, Falconieri, Gesualdo, and Peri. I Gemelli features Toro as the soloist with a rich continuo ensemble, inspired in part by the instruments used in Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo: viola da gamba, theorbo, and harp.
As a specialist in baroque repertoire, Toro’s voice and approach here I think well captures a baroque sound world aesthetic. While he does use vibrato, he exercises control over producing a firm sound that I noticed most often at cadences. The texts of these pieces come from well-known poets of the time, including Rasi himself. While I am not a native Italian speaker, I thought his diction was strong and easy to hear. The album notes reveal how the study of Rasi effected the group’s approach to the repertoire, including their earlier production of L’Orfeo. The album’s title refers to the dark sound of the singer’s voice, with a deeper range than what’s normally considered a tenor voice. Notes make a comparison to the chiaroscuro shadows in the paintings of Caravaggio to the style of voice Toro interprets as Rasi’s style.
In the album’s eighth track, Ardo, ma non aridscothe piece begins: I burn, yet dare not show the ardour enclosed within my soul, which, silent and blazing, like an invisible lightning bolt falling, consumes me from within, and does not appear without…The poetry comes from Battista Marino, but the ornamentation is something that is likely familiar sounding, specifically, if you’ve heard one or more performances of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo. The notes speak to Rasi’s own ornamentation style as being tied closely to the many performances of Orfeo. The result of Toro’s performance style here in this piece seems affective, considering the poetry that speaks to the singer’s sexual energy.
The ensemble inserts a few instrumental numbers which isn’t atypical in concert performances to give the singer a break. I think it’s welcome here too, given repeated listens to the album in giving us a break from one dramatic piece to another. It likewise allows each bass player the opportunity to demonstrate their own flair. While I am fan of harpsichords and organs, not hearing a keyboard instrument in this album is somehow refreshing.
The final track, by Falconieri, utilizes a text that hints at the flirting between two lovers. The rhythm propels the piece and Toro’s performance demonstrates well his technical mastery and ability to sing with lightness despite the piece’s required speed. The ultimate note, I can’t know if it’s written or not, is sure to make one smile, all that flirting ending with just a kiss on the hand.
I found this album was enjoyable on several fronts. First, I think Toro’s voice is excellent and is easy to listen to. Part of that assessment is his style which comes from a deep study of Rasi’s scores. Second, the recording engineers I think did well to capture the voice close enough, but the ensemble are all presented within a setting with just the right about of air around the instruments. The recording conveys a salon, not the stage. It’s intimate enough to convey a meeting of an academy performance. Finally, the pieces were all tuneful, and for me, unknown. While a recital of different pieces pulled together may not appeal to all, the theme around an important historical figure I think makes for a cohesive recital, given the stylistic similarities among the pieces by different composers. Those interested in this period are in for performances that are stylish, clear, and well supported.