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Massimiliano NERI (c1620-after 1670): Sonate da sonarsi con varij stromenti

Voces Suavesa; Concerto Scirocco
Dir: Giulia Genini

rec: Feb 12 - 16, 2022, Riehen (BL, CH), Landgasthof (Grosser Festsaal)
Arcana - A544 ( 2023) (76'24")
Liner-notes: E/F/IT; lyrics - translations: E/F/IT
Cover, track-list & booklet

Caterina GIANI (c1630-after 1673): Liebster Jesu; Massimiliano NERI: Ad charismata caelorum [3]; Canzon II 4 [1]; Salve Virgo benignissima [3]; Sonata I 4 [1]; Sonata I 3 [2]; Sonata II 4 [1]; Sonata II 3 [2]; Sonata III 3 [2]; Sonata V 4 [2]; Sonata X 8 [2]; Sonata XI 9 [2]; Sonata XIV 12 [2]; Sonata XV 12 [2]

Sources: [1] Sonate e canzone a quatro da sonarsi con diversi stromenti in chiesa, & in camera con alcune correnti pure quatro, che si ponno sonare tre, e due ancora, lasciando fuori le parti di mezzo, op. 1, 1644; [2] Sonate da sonarsi con varij stromenti a tr, fino a dodeci, op. 2, 1651; [3] Francesco Magni, ed., Sacra Corona. Mottetti a due e tre voci di diversi eccelentissimi autori moderni, 1656

[VS] Christina Boner, soprano; Jan Thomer, alto; Raphael Hhn, tenor; Davide Benetti, bass
[CS] Dominique Tinguely, recorder; March Pauchard, recorder, cornett; Giulia Genini, recorder, dulcian; Pietro Modesti, cornett; Susanna Defendi, Valerio Mazzucconi, Nathaniel Wood, sackbut; Alfia Bakieva, Johannes Frisch, violin; Ayako Matsunaga, Michele Party, viola; Amlie Chemin, viola da gamba; Luca Bandini, Giovanna Baviera, violone; Giovanni Bellini, Maria Ferr, theorbo; Michele Vannelli, harpsichord, organ

Once again Concerto Scirocco has recorded music by a composer who is not unknown, but whose music is not that often performed and who is certainly never the subject of an entire CD production. A few years ago the ensemble recorded canzonas for an instrumental ensemble by Giovanni Picchi, who is almost exclusively known for his keyboard works. This time it is Massimiliano Neri, whose instrumental music is recorded. This is virtually the only kind of music for which he is known, simply because he has written hardly anything else. His sonatas are sometimes included in anthologies or inserted in performances of a Vesper service. Because of that it is seldom specifically discussed. This disc makes clear that there is every reason to put him into the spotlight.

Neri was a descendant of a musical family from Verona, with the name of Negri. He may have called himself Neri in order to distinguish himself from other musicians with the name of Negri, as Paolo Alberto Rismondo suggests in his liner-notes. His father served various courts in Germany as a musician, and his mother was a harpsichord teacher. When he was about ten years old, the family settled in Venice; nothing is known about Neri's teachers. His first position was that of organist at the ducal chapel of St Mark's from 1644 to 1664. In addition he held several minor posts. In 1644 he published his first collection of music, comprising sonatas and canzonas for three or four instruments and basso continuo. He dedicated it to his first patron, Giacomo Soranzo. The music in his second set of instrumental works, this time only called sonatas, is more opulent, as the number of parts varies from three to twelve. The pieces for eight or more instruments are in the Venetian cori spezzati tradition. In this collection Neri specifies mostly the instruments to be used, although he stated that performers were free to choose the instruments according to their own wishes.

Unfortunately for Neri, the dedication had far-reaching consequences for his status in Venice. He dedicated the collection to the Viennese ambassador in Venice. The latter provided him with passports and letters of presentation, which allowed him to go to Vienna to present his sonatas to the emperor. However, Venice knew different political factions, and Neri's affiliation with the imperial faction caused him considerable trouble. He was imprisoned, and the relations with the Soranzo family were troubled. In 1664 his uncle Giuseppe, who was a canon at the cathedral of Bonn and a singer in the musical chapel of the court of the prince-bishop of Bonn-Cologne, must have given him news of the death of the preceding Kapellmeister. Neri left Venice and did obtain the post. He never returned, and died in Bonn, in 1666 or later.

The present disc offers a survey of his two collections of sonatas. Because of their different scorings, there is much variety. The performers have added to that in that they have chosen for different combinations of instruments. However, the sonatas themselves include also quite some variety in the way they have been written. The programme opens and closes with two large-scale works in twelve parts, which reflect the opulence for which Venetian music was known. The Sonata I from the Op. 1 is very different, much more modest, but is also notable for its frequent pauses. The Sonata II from the same set is dominated by chromaticism. In the Sonata X from the Op. 2 the performers have strictly adhered to the scoring Neri has indicated: the first choir comprises two violins, violetta and theorbo, the second three recorders and theorbo. It includes some episodes in which the recorders play tremolo. There are also some sonatas with contrasts in tempo and metre. All differences notwithstanding, these sonatas are all written in the stylus phantasticus that was the hallmark of Italian music of the first half of the 17th century.

I have already mentioned that Neri has written hardly any other than instrumental music. In 1664 he published his only book with vocal music - motets for two and three voices - as his Op. 3; two other motets have been included in anthologies. Two motets have been recorded on this disc. As charismata coelorum is for two voices and basso continuo. In the middle we find a rather surprising piece on a German text, written by Caterina Giani. She was a Florentine singer, whom Neri married in 1654; she participated in the first performance of Francesco Cavalli's opera Calisto. Only one composition from her pen has come down to us. Rismondo states that it was originally a piece with a secular text in Italian. He does not explain how it received the German text on which it is sung here. However, as it is part of the Dben Collection, it may have been a contrafactum from the pen of Gustav Dben. Rismondo writes that it is a verse from the chorale Jesu, meine Freude. It is not; in fact, when I searched for this text on the internet, I only found references to this particular piece by Caterina Giani.

It is a little blot on an intriguing production. The music by Neri is well worth being highlighted on a disc like this one. It is music of outstanding quality and considerable variety. Neri was undoubtedly a composer of repute, and that is easy to understand. This disc is a joy to listen to, and that is also due to the excellent and often exciting performances of Concerto Scirocco, which combines technical brilliance with a thorough understanding of the style of the time. Voces Suaves is a good match in the vocal items.

Johan van Veen ( 2023)

Relevant links:

Voces Suaves
Concerto Scirocco

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