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"Leçons de Ténèbres - Samedi Saint dans l'Italie du Seicento" (Holy Saturday in 17th-century Italy)

In Musica Veritas

rec: March 1 - 4, 2011, Limoges, Église réformée
Ad Vitam - AV 120135 (© 2012) (60'56")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translation: F
Cover & track-list

Giovanni Matteo ASOLA (c1532-1609): Christus factus est; Gerolamo BALLIONE (1575-1608): Maria Magdalena con una Canzon francese in soprano [1]; Giovanni Paolo CIMA (c1570-1622): O vos omnes; Sonata a 2, cornetto e trombone; Carlo Donato COSSONI (1623-1700): Super flumina Babylonis; Tarquinio MERULA (1595-1665): Sonata II; Giovanni Felice SANCES (1600-1679): Pianto della Madonna (Stabat mater) [3]; Francisco SOLER (c1625-1688): Lamentatio in die Sabbato sancto; Giovanni Maria TRABACI (c1575-1647): Consonanze stravaganti; Durezze e ligature; Ludovico GROSSI DA VIADANA: Responsoria ad lamentationes [2]

[1] Gerolamo Bellione, Sacrarum cantionum, liber primus, op. 2, 1608; [2] Ludovico Grossi da Viadana, Responsoria ad lamentationes, liber primus, op. 23, 1609; [3] Giovanni Felice Sances, Motetti a una, due, tre, e quattro voci, 1638

Alice Habellion, mezzo-soprano; Franck Poitrineau, sackbut; Pierre Gallon, organ; with: Judith Pacquier, cornett

The period preceding Easter has always been one of the central periods in the liturgical year of the Christian Church through the ages. Large amounts of music have been written to be performed during Lent, and especially during Holy Week. This disc presents music from Italy from the late 16th to the late 17th century.

In the early 17th century the genre of opera emerged. During Lent performances of operas were prohibited, and as an alternative oratorios were performed. Many composers of the second half of the 17th and the first half of the 18th century contributed to this genre. At the same time music was written for liturgical performance, such as settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, the Tenebrae Reponsoria which are connected to them, and settings of the Stabat mater. The programme of this disc concentrates on the two latter categories. The programme-notes explain the liturgical context but are rather short on information about the composers and the character of the music.

There are no references to the sources or to the original scoring of the pieces performed here. In the case of the nine Responsoria for Holy Saturday by Ludovico Grossi da Viadana that is particularly regrettable. Viadana is often considered as the first composer to write music with a basso continuo part. Strictly speaking that is not correct, and the performance of the Responsoria by a solo voice isn't an indication of the concertante style of the baroque era. The only collection of Responsoria in the work-list in New Grove is Viadana's op. 23, the Responsoria ad lamentationes, liber primus, which was printed in 1609. These are rooted in the stile antico and the four parts are divided over voice, sackbut and organ. Performances in which vocal parts were divided over voices and instruments were quite common. That said, this particular scoring is probably less than ideal, especially because here the upper voice dominates whereas in polyphony like this all voices are equal. Alice Habellion is right by avoiding extended ornamentation in early baroque style. "Each response is preceded by its lectio. Here the musicians have intended to give to their reading of the lamentations of Jeremiah its scholastic meaning of lesson simply by displaying the Hebrew letter that organises the different verses and the incipit of each one in an improvised monody", Dominique Habellion writes in the booklet.

These Responsoria are surrounded by other pieces which thematically belong to the Lent period. We hear one setting of a lamentation for Holy Saturday, by Francisco Soler, a Spanish composer who was born and died in Gerona and worked in various churches here and elsewhere as choirmaster. His music is written in the stile antico; the Lamentatio in die Sabbato sancto is for two voices, here divided over voice and sackbut, with the organ playing colla parte. Christus factus est by Giovanni Matteo Asola who worked in Verona, Treviso and Venice, is written in the traditional polyphonic style of Palestrina. His contemporary Gerolamo Ballione (or Baglioni) composed pieces in a concertante style above a bass played at the organ. He was from Milan where this practice was especially popular. In Maria Magdalena con una Canzon francese in soprano the vocal polyphony is interspersed by instrumental passages, here played at the organ.

The two pieces in the modern monodic style are O vos omnes by Cima and Pianto della Madonna by Giovanni Felice Sances. The latter piece is a setting of the Stabat mater and one of the best-known pieces of the 17th century. The two organ pieces by Trabaci have no specific connection to Holy Week, but their daring harmonies make them well suited to be included in a programme like this.

The largest part of this disc comprises hardly-known compositions by various composers who are largely neglected. That even goes for Viadana, who is often mentioned in history books but whose oeuvre is mostly ignored. That makes this disc particularly interesting and important. Its value is further enhanced by the outstanding performances of the four artists. Alice Habellion's singing is quite impressive, not only from a technical point of view - especially Sances's Pianto is demanding - but also stylistically. In every piece she finds the right approach and she pays much attention to the text. This disc is a most welcome addition to the discography of music for Holy Week.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

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