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"°Sacabuche! - 17th-Century Italian Motets"

Dir: Linda Pearse

rec: Feb 5 - 8, 2015, Memramcook (New Brunswick, CAN), …glise Saint-Thomas
ATMA - ACD2 2712 (© 2015) (73'20")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Gasparo CASATI (c1610-1641): Laetare Syon; Federico CAUDA (CODA) (?-?): Beatus vir qui suffert/Sancte N.; Domine Jesu Christe; Iste sanctus; Jubilemus Deo; NicolÚ CORRADINI (?-1646): Cantate Domino; Spargite flores; Carlo FILLAGO (c1586-1644): Confitemini Domini; Diligam te Domine; Ego sum qui sum; Sub tuum praesidium; Ottavio Maria GRANDI (fl 1610-1630): Sonata XIX; Leone LEONI (c1560-1627): Deus exaudi; In te Domine speravi; Stefano PASINO (?-after 1679): Sonata XII detta la Savolda; Ercole PORTA (1585-1630): Coda Deo dabimus; Francesco USPER (bef 1570-1641): Intonuit de caelo; Vulnerasti cor meum

Eric Brenner, Drew Minter, Nicholas Tamagna, alto; Aaron Sheehan, Sumner Thompson, tenor; Peter Becker, bass
Matthew Jennejohn, recorder, cornett; Catherine Motuz, Christopher Canapa, Linda Pearse, Garrett Lahr, sackbut; James Andrewes, violin; Martha Perry, violin, viola; Sylvain Bergeron, theorbo; Alexander Weimann, organ

Ensembles of cornetts and sackbuts are a common phenomenon these days. They are often involved in performances and recordings of vocal music: they support the voices (playing colla voce) or replace one or more of them. Sometimes they have separate parts, and play in alternation with the voices. Lastly, they play independent instrumental music, for instance the canzonas of the Gabrielis. Cornetts and sackbuts were in use from the early 16th to the mid-17th century (that is: in ensemble; individually they were used well into the 18th century). The present disc sheds special light on the role of the sackbut.

"This recording serves as the culmination of seventeen years of research, publication, performance, and pedagogy. Beginning in 1997, I located and collected seventeenth-century Italian sacred motets with specified trombone parts. This interest led to a doctoral dissertation at Indiana University and a critical edition of this music published by A-R Editions (2014). The recording serves to document this labour of love in an aural format", Linda Pearse writes in the liner-notes. Undoubtedly it is an important recording, not only as the pieces performed here document the various roles of sackbuts in the early 17th century, but also as here we hear music by composers who are little known or not known at all. The track-list doesn't give any indication as to which pieces are recorded for the first time, but it would not surprise me if most of them are indeed premiere recordings. This time in history is pretty popular among performers, but unfortunately they mostly choose pieces by composers who are well represented in the catalogue. There is so much still to discover; one of the features of the early 17th century is the amount of music that was written and published at the time. What we have here is just the tip of the iceberg, and one has to hope that it will encourage others to look beyond the obvious.

It is a bit odd that Pearse consistently refers to the instrument she plays as trombone, whereas the most common word is sackbut, also used in the list of performers. It is also the name of the ensemble: sacabuche is the Spanish translation of sackbut. In addition a violin is played as well as a cornett, in alternation with a recorder. The role of the instruments is very different, from supporting the voices in pieces which are written in the stile antico to items with obbligato instrumental parts.

Unfortunately the liner-notes, which give much information about the role of the instrument, don't tell anything about the composers. Rather than lengthy biographies of the artists involved in the recording I would have liked to read more about the composers. One of them, Federico Cauda (or Coda) is not even included in New Grove. Therefore I mention some of the basic facts here.

Gasparo Casati was for most of his short life maestro di cappella of Novara Cathedral. He published five collections of sacred music for voices and bc, sometimes with additional instruments. NicolÚ Corradini was from Cremona, where he worked all his life as organist and from 1635 until his death also as maestro of the Cappella delle Laudi, as successor to Tarquinio Merula. His oeuvre includes two books of vocal works (motets and madrigals respectively) and two collections of instrumental music. In his motets he prefers two obbligato instruments, one high (cornett, violin) and one low (sackbut, violone). Carlo Fillago was educated as an organist; he was a pupil of Luzzasco Luzzaschi. His first position was that of organist in Treviso Cathedral, but in 1623 he was appointed organist of St Mark's in Venice; he held this post until his death. He published four collections of sacred music for voices and bc. Ottavio Maria Grandi, apparently not related to Alessandro, was also an organist; he worked as teacher of organ and of violin in Reggio nell'Emilia. Only one collection of music has survived, albeit incomplete, which includes sonatas for one to six instruments with basso continuo. In some of them violins and sackbuts are specifically indicated.

Leone Leoni was from Verona. He was trained as a priest and made a career in Vicenza, from 1588 until his death as maestro di cappella of the Cathedral. He published a respectable number of collections of sacred and secular music. Stefano Pasino was also a priest; he was educated as an organist and worked as such in Lonato and later in SalÚ. Two collections of sacred music and two of instrumental music from his pen are known; one of the latter has been lost.

Ercole Porta and Francesco Usper are probably the best-known names in the programme. Porta was from Bologna and educated as an organist; he worked in the latter capacity for eight years in nearby Persiceto, and later was appointed maestro di cappella at Carpi Cathedral. His oeuvre comprises sacred and secular vocal music; his first collection of sacred concertos is rather conservative, but the following editions include music in the concertato style. Usper was born in Istria, but studied in Venice with Andrea Gabrieli. For most of his life he was in the service of the confraternity of S Giovanni Evangelista in Venice. His oeuvre includes sacred and secular vocal music as well as instrumental pieces.

Stylistically the programme goes from pieces in the stile antico to music with independent instrumental parts, in which the instruments play in alternation with the voice. Usper represents the former: the two pieces included here are from a collection of 1614. In his preface he criticised the 'modern' music of his time as "raucous". The motets are in the old style and the instruments play colla voce. At the other end of the line is Gasparo Casati, whose Laetare Syon is, according to Linda Pearse, "by far the most forward-looking on the recording, more than hinting at the rising dominance of string music and sectional form, the codification of respective roles for instruments and voices, and the longer works of the later seventeenth century." In between these poles are pieces in which the development towards a stronger polarity between treble and bass can be observed as well as the development of the bass part from a basso seguente to a genuine basso continuo.

As one may expect these pieces include quite some text expression. Notable is the way NicolÚ Corradini (Cantate Domino) highlights the words "The Lord has made known his salvation", in particular through the opposition of solo voice and obbligato violin, the latter playing softly, probably from behind at the scene, undoubtedly reflecting the affetti of the words. In Usper's Intonuit de coelo, which is about Jesus' being baptized in the Jordan, the words of God - "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased" - are set homophonically; the voices together represent here the single vox Dei. Ego sum qui sum is a setting of anthiphons from the Matins of Easter Sunday. In the third Carlo Fillago eloquently translates the textual contrasts in his music: the descending figures on the words "I have slept, and taken my rest" are followed by lively ascending figures on "I have risen up, because the Lord has protected me". Effective are also the pauses in Leoni's Deus exaudi, following the words "hear my voice" and "have mercy upon me" respectively.

In Cauda's Beatus vir the upper voice sings "Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis"; one is reminded here of the Sonata sopra Sancta Maria from Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers. Another piece by the same composer, Domine Jesu Christe, is also notable for the inclusion of another text. It is a setting of antiphons for the Feast of St Lawrence; texts of unknown origin are inserted between the lines of the original antiphon, creating a kind of dialogue between St Lawrence and God. This piece is written in purely monodic style, whereas most compositions on this disc are a mixture of polyphony and monody.

From the angle of repertoire this is an important production. Moreover, it sheds light on interesting stylistic developments regarding the use of instruments in various functions. I love this kind of music and I would love to recommend this disc. Unfortunately that is not possible. The playing here is outstanding, both technically and stylistically. It is the vocal contributions which spoil the party. When I saw the name of Drew Minter in the list of singers, I feared the worst, as his singing has always been marred by a considerable amount of vibrato. However, he behaves relatively well. Some of the other singers are much worse, in particular Nicholas Tamagna. I find his incessant and sometimes pretty wide vibrato hard to swallow (I noted this already in my review of 'Son of England'). It undermines his solos, but it also damages the ensemble. Most of the other singers are also guilty of this aberration of what is historically tenable. Oddly enough, when Eric Brenner sings the chant in Cauda's Beatus vir, he completely avoids vibrato. So then why does he use it elsewhere? Moreover, dynamically the performances are also too flat. This music requires stronger dynamic contrasts, and an important tool of singers of that time, the messa di voce, is completely absent.

However interesting this disc is, due to the contributions of the singers it is largely a missed opportunity.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

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