Un Fior Gentile
L’ars nova di magister Antonio Zacara da Teramo
Baryton CDM0023. 68’41
This is a re-release and re-packaging of a recording made in 2003 (first released in 2008) which stemmed from musicologist Francesco Zimei, the Institute of Musical History of Abruzzo, and a conference in Teramo that aimed to revive the music of the fascinating character, Antonio Zacara da Teramo. Antonio was active around 1400. The rather unkind nickname Zacara (which could mean a small thing, a thing of little value, or a splash of mud) stems from his being rather short in stature, and having a range of physical deformities (possible a result of what later became known as phocomelia) including several missing fingers, as depicted in the Codex Squarcialupi illustration.
There are five singers, playing harp, and seven instrumentalists; including a bombarda and a solid bass line of two trombones, together with lute, viola, and two portative organs (although I think one is possibly a positive, rather than portative). One delightful instrumental moment comes on track 4, where a portative and positive organ duet on Rosetta, the former organ featuring subtle inflexions of volume and timbre through control of the bellows wind, the latter with more stable winding, occasionally interspersed with the sound of the bellows being raised.
There are three sacred pieces, the remainder being secular. The opening Gloria sets the scene in a forthright way. Indeed, one of the vocal features is the rather direct vocal style, a refreshing change in the UK for the rather delicate Oxbridge voice that we so often hear. Tuning is generally sound, and the voices are clear and focussed. The secular pieces range in mood and performing style, including some instrumental versions of vocal pieces. Also included are some instrumental pieces from the famous Faenza Codex.
The texts of the secular pieces are given, but only with a short outline of the text, rather than a full translations which, by the nature of the original texts, would have been rather misleading. For the final piece, this approach is probably just as well, as Ciaramella me dolce is full of unashamed sexual
metaphor and allusion, depicting a young lady becoming increasingly enamoured with the physical form of the Ciaramella (the Southern Italy name for a type of shawm or bombarda), leading to some sort of climax.
Musicologists can have fun reading the detailed programme notes, detailing aspects of performance that need not concern most listeners. A version of Ciaramella me dolce can be heard here, also performed by Ensemble Micrologus, but in a different arrangement to that on the CD.