Italian Treasury
Alan Lomax Collection

Rounder 1871

El fiöl del conte; Il giorno di carnevale; Caro 'l me Tone; Marcia; Ninna nanna); Ol carneŕl el va el vé; Pierě de la montagna; I n'andai a Vivrón; L'č rivŕ d'un bastimento; Valzer; Notter de Berghem; Ninna nanna; Quando saremo föra de la Valsügana; Mamma mia la spusa l'č ché / Le carrozze son giŕ preparate; Rigoletto Bottanuco; Richiami per gli ucelli.
Cover pictureThis is perhaps the oddest of the Italian Treasury releases I've encountered.  Lombardia is one of the larger of the Italian provinces, with Milano as its capital (really the capital of Northern Italy), and with a very wide range of traditional music and dance on offer - perhaps because of the variety of landscapes it includes.  Abutting Piemont in the west, it has the similar Alpine foothills and mountains to the north and the flatlands of the Po basin to the south, but with the addition of many lakes, including Garda, Lugano, Como and Maggiore.  Given this information, it is perhaps astonishing that Lomax and Carpitella recorded there for only two days - the evening of Sept 23rd 1954, all of the 24th and an hour or two of the morning of the 26th - a brief stop on their way to Piemont.

The brevity of their work meant that only three locations were recorded in: Parre, in the mountains north of Bergamo; Bottanuco and Almenno S Salvatore, two villages in the foothills just outside Bergamo; and Confienza, way over in the southwest.  This latter is situated at the tip of an extension into Piemont which the border makes, and so might more reasonably be considered to be of Piemontese culture, rather than Lombardian.

The breadth of what they recorded was also very limited: two men playing bird calls, a panpipe group, some ricefield workers, and another group of singers, mainly women.  The notes tell us that Lomax and Carpitella recorded 28 items in Lombardia, yet only 16 of these appear on this CD, making its duration slightly less than 48 minutes.  As so often before, with these Alan Lomax Collection CDs, I'm forced to wonder why no more of the recordings have been presented here, particularly as there was room for another 32 minutes on the disc.

All this notwithstanding, this is a most enjoyable record, mainly due to the quality of the singers from Parre, who have 9 of the tracks to themselves.  They begin the CD causing me considerable doubts, since the lead singer in this case, Celeste Cappelli, displays an almost operatic soprano which seems quite out of place here.  However she only uses it on one other song, and this group of three women and two men sing very well at all times, indeed, they sound well-practiced - much more so that one usually finds in the sort of impromptu groups of singers that Lomax excelled in getting together for his recordings.  play Sound ClipTheir repertoire is rich in the ballads so often found in Lombardia - and exemplified by Eva Tagliani, whose CD is available via our records website, and the note to which are available here in English translation.  We find versions of The Outlandish Knight and Lord Ingram and Child Wyet (sound clip - L'č rivŕ d'un bastimento) together with several of Italian origin.  Some of the women can be seen in the front cover photo.

The adjective 'well-practiced' might also be used of the panpipe band from Bottanuco, though the notes tell us that 'An active group of firlinfö (panpipe) players, I Sifoi (founded in 1876), still exists in Bottanuco, and they are likely to be the performers here'.  play Sound ClipSuch groups of both musicians and singers specialising in folkloric performance existed all over northern Italy, and were in receipt of State support during the Fascist era.  They really are very good indeed. (sound clip - their idiosyncratic version of a well-known piece of Rigoletto)  On track 13, some members of the band sing Quando saremo föra de la Valsügana, one of the staples of the repertoire of the S.A.T. - the Trentino Alpine Society - the first of innumerable Alpino choruses that were to follow.

play Sound ClipThe Mondine (female ricefield workers) encountered over in Confienza were four teenage girls, not the large gangs to be heard in many other recordings of these songs.  The power and raucous exuberance of the older women is missing here, but the girls sing well and are worth hearing, even if this is but a pale shadow of the true genre. (sound clip - Il giorno di carnevale)

So, an enjoyable record - if a very incomplete one - of Lombardian song and music.  A great pity we were not able to hear more of it.

Rod Stradling - 11.12.05

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