musica Dei donum
Giovanni CROCE (c1557 - 1609): "Motetti & Sacrae Cantiones"
Voces Soaves (Francesco Saverio Pedrini, organa); Concerto Scirocco (Giulia Genini)
rec: Oct 12 - 15, 2015 & March 6, 2017a, Mantua, Santa Barbara
Arcana - A 439 (© 2017) (52'24")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/I; lyrics - translations: E/D/F/I
Cover, track-list & booklet
Vincenzo BELL'HAVER (1540/41-1587):
Toccata del 1° tuonoa ;
Anima liquefacta est ;
Ave virgo ;
Egredimini et videte ;
Hodie completi sunt ;
Omnes gentes ;
Ornaverunt faciem templi ;
Percussit Saul ;
Quaeramus cum pastoribus ;
Virgo decus nemorum ;
Andrea GABRIELI (c1553-1585):
Canzon ariosaa ;
Giovanni GABRIELI (1557-1612):
Canzon III a 4 (C 188) ;
Canzon III a 6 (C 197) ;
Gioseffo GUAMI (1542-1611):
Canzon XVII ;
Claudio MERULO (1533-1604):
Toccata III del 12° detto 6° tuonoa ;
Giovanni PICCHI (1571/72-1643):
Canzon XIV 
 Girolamo Diruta, Il Transilvani, 1593;
 Andrea Gabrieli, Il terzo libro de ricercari, 1596;
 Giovanni Croce, Motetti a otto voci, 1603;
 Claudio Merulo, Toccate d'intavolatura d'organo, libro secondo, 1604;
 Giovanni Croce, Sacrae Cantiones quinis vocibus, 1605;
 Alessandro Raverii, ed., Canzoni per sonare con ogni sorte di stromenti, 1608;
 Gioseffo Guami, Canzoni per sonare con ogni sorte di stromenti, 1608;
 Giovanni Gabrieli, Canzoni et Sonate, 1615;
 Giovanni Picchi, Canzoni da sonar con ogni sorte di stromenti, 1625
[VS] Lia Andres, Christina Boner-Sutter, soprano;
Gabriel JUblin, Jan Thomer, alto;
Matthias Deger, Dan Dunkelblum, Ivo Haun, Raphael Höhn, tenor;
Tobias Wicky, baritone;
Davide Benetti, bass
[CS] Pietro Modesti, (mute) cornett;
Claire McIntyre, Nathaniel Wood, sackbut;
Giulia Genini, dulcian;
Johannes Frisch, violin, viola da brazzo;
Amélie Chemin, viola da gamba;
Luca Bandini, violone
Musical life in Venice in the second half of the 16th and the first half of the 17th century is inextricably and almost exclusively connected with four composers: Adrian Willaert, Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli and Claudio Monteverdi. Many other musicians of fame were active at that time, but in modern performance practice they are almost completely overshadowed by those four giants. One such is Giovanni Croce, probably not more than a footnote in history for many music lovers, but quite an important figure in Venetian music life of his time.
Croce was born in Choggia in 1557 and moved to Venice around 1570, probably at the instigation of Gioseffo Zarlino, also a native of Choggia, who was maestro di cappella of St Mark's from 1565 until his death in 1590. In 1574 Croce was hired as a boy soprano at St Mark's, and ten years later he published his first collection of music. This was the start of his career, which resulted in his being appointed maestro di cappella of St Mark's in 1603, as successor to Baldassare Donato. Between 1591 and 1610 he published fourteen collections of sacred music; compositions of his were also included in anthologies. Croce was active outside the church as well. He was in contact with some of the most powerful families in the city, as the dedications of his editions of secular music show. Ten collections were printed between 1585 and 1607: madrigals, canzonettas and music for carnival.
Croce's musical style is generally considered to be rather conservative. The pieces recorded here attest to that. They are products of the stile antico, and the fashions which manifested themselves around 1600 are largely absent from his oeuvre. One of the features of these motets is that Croce regularly repeats a particular episode to give structure to a piece. Percussit Saul is an example: at the end of the work the opening section is repeated. In other motets an "Alleluia" takes the role of a refrain, for instance in Ave virgo, sponsa Dei. In Quaeramus cum pastoribus it is "Noe", which is used at the end of each of the four sections.
Croce generally avoids madrigalisms and marked text illustration. That comes to the fore, for instance, in Anima liquefacta est, a setting of a text from the Song of Songs, which other composers often took as an inspiration to illustrate the text with musical figures. However, that does not mean that there is no depiction of the text at all. Omnes gentes is a setting of Psalm 46 (47) and here the words "in voce tubae" (amid the sounding trumpets) are illustrated with fanfare-like figures. The same goes for Percussit Saul, a setting of a text based on the story of Saul and David: "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands". In the book of Samuel this is the song of the women of Israel, and that probably inspired the performers to divide the parts among the high voices and the instruments playing the lower parts. Although the title of the motets of 1594 indicates the participation of instruments, the latter don't have independent parts.
A particularly interesting piece is Virgo decus nemorum: it is a setting of a free poetic text from the pen of Alessandro Gatti, the author of, among other things, madrigal texts. This particular piece, with a neo-Latin text, seems an adaptation of a madrigal, and that left its mark in Croce's setting, which is notable for the use of the echo technique. This was to be used frequently in early 17th-century operas and other music of a theatrical nature. Here the statements of the first choir are answered by the second choir. For instance: "Quis natus Virgine magnus? Agnus" - "Who is the great son of the Virgin? The lamb".
This one of the few examples of a piece, in which the cori spezzati technique, introduced by Adrian Willaert, is used for reasons of text expression. Quaeramus cum pastoribus, a piece for Christmastide, includes episodes with questions and answers, and a scoring for double choir is tailor-made to create a real dialogue, but Croce almost completely ignores this possibility.
Croce composed sacred and secular vocal music, but no instrumental pieces. Therefore the performers decided to include instrumental works by contemporaries: Giovanni Gabrieli, Giovanni Picchi - probably a pupil of Croce - and Gioseffo Guami. Moreover we hear three keyboard pieces, by Andrea Gabrieli, Claudio Merulo and the little-known Vincenzo Bell'haver (or Bellavere) respectively. The latter worked for two periods in Venice, lastly during the eight months before his death as successor to Andrea Gabrieli in St Mark's.
The selection of these pieces was inspired by the organ in the Santa Barbara in Mantua, where the recording took place. The liner-notes state that this is a different venue from St Mark's, but was chosen for the presence of the 16th-century Antegnati organ as well as the acoustic. Although the text is for the most part clearly intelligible, a large space like this inevitably causes some problems. However, that was not the main concern of composers in the stile antico.
This is one of the very few discs to feature Croce's oeuvre prominently. One could argue that it is a bit of a shame that it is not entirely devoted to him. The instrumental items are nice additions and well worth listening to, but Croce's music deserves more attention. The short playing time is also disappointing. It is to be hoped that performers will further explore his oeuvre. In the meantime, there is every reason to be thankful for this disc, which gives us a fairly good impression of his style. The performers have done him and us a favour by delivering such fine performances. The singing and playing is excellent throughout; only in Percussit Saul I noted a slight vibrato in the sopranos. The organ is one of the most beautiful instruments of the renaissance period, and the three keyboard works are given outstanding performances by Francesco Saverio Pedrini.
Johan van Veen (© 2018)