musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Splendours of the Gonzaga - Sacred music from Wert to Monteverdi"

Dir: Luca Colombo

rec: Sept 18 - 20, 2020, Palazzo Pignano (Cremona), Pieve di San Martino
Arcana - A545 (© 2023) (63'12")
Liner-notes: E/F/IT; lyrics - translations: E/F/IT
Cover, track-list & booklet

Amante FRANZONI (1575-?1630): Dixit Dominus VI. toni a 8 [5]; Giovanni Giacomo GASTOLDI (c1554-1609): Magnificat VIII. toni a 6 [2]; Regina coeli a 4 [3]; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Cantate Domino a 6 [6]; Confitebor III alla francese a 5 [8]; Laetaniae della Beata Vergine a 6 [9]; Benedetto PALLAVICINO (c1551-1601): Dum complerentur (1. pars) - Cum ergo essent (2. pars) a 8 [4]; Misericordias Domini a 8 [4]; Salomone ROSSI (c1570-1630): Keter Yitnu a 4 [7]; Yesusum midbar a 5 [7]; Giaches DE WERT (1535-1596): Adesto dolori meo a 6 [1]; Omnis homo primum a 5 [1]; Speremus meliora omnes a 5 [1]

Sources: [1] Giaches de Wert, Motectorum quinque vocum liber primus, 1566; Giovanni Giacomo Gastoldi, [2] Sacra omnium solemnitatum vespertina psalmodia, cum beatae virginis cantico, alternis versiculis concinenda, 1593; [3] Completorium perfectum ad usum Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae sacraeque illae laudes, quibus divinum terminatur officium... liber secundus, 1597; [4] Benedetto Pallavicino, Sacrae Dei laudes octo, et una duodecim, duae vero sexdecim vocibus concinendae, 1605; [5] Amante Franzoni, Sacra omnium solemnitatum vespertina psalmodia cum cantico B. Virginis, 1619; [6] Giulio Cesare Bianchi, Libro primo de motetti in lode d'Iddio nostro Signore, 1620; [7] Salomone Rossi, Hashirim asher lish'lomo, 1623; Claudio Monteverdi, [8] Selva morale e spirituale, 1640/41; [9] Messa a quattro voci et salmi a una, due, tre, quattro, cinque, sei, sette, & otto voci, 1650

Francesca Cassinari, Orla Brundrett Shaloo, Carolina Intrieri, Vera Milani, Emma Brambilla, Miriam Frigerio, Sarah Intrieri, Silvia Vertemara, soprano; Elena Carzaniga, Edvige Brambilla, Monica Fumagalli, Camilla Novielli, contralto; Roberto Rilievi, Riccardo Pisani, Davide Colnaghi, Davide Nicolussi, Gianluca Origgi, tenor; Gabriele Lombardi, Alfredo Magni, Alessandro Marchesi, bass
Luciana Elizondo, viola da gamba; Giangiacomo Pinardi, archlute; Gianluca Viglizzo, organ

Mantua speaks to the imagination of performers and music lovers. One of the reasons is the unque historical organs in the basilica, which are often used for recordings of keyboard music or for the accompaniment of singers and/or instrumentalists. The basilica itself was designed according to the wishes of Duke Guglielmo Gonzaga, who considered it a Gesamtkunstwerk, in which architecture, furnishings, painting, music and liturgy came together. After the building of the basilica was finished in 1572, the organ was built by Graziado Antegnati. Both the basilica and its organ were manifestations of the Duke's power and wealth. No wonder that he also attracted some of the best musicians and composers of his time. The disc under review offers a survey of music by composers who were in the Duke's service in the second half of the 16th century and the first decades of the 17th.

That does not indicate that all the pieces included here were written for performance in Mantua. The three items by Monteverdi have been selected to give an impression of his style. Two of the pieces are included in collections published in 1640/41 (Confitebor III) and 1650 (Laetaniae) respectively, whereas the third item (Cantate Domino) is included in a printed edition of 1620. However, the years of publication don't tell us anything about the time they have been written. Confitebor III is one of Monteverdi's most famous sacred works. In the Letaniae Monteverdi does not follow the tradition of formally splitting the ensemble in two sections, each of which sings either the invocations or the responses. Sometimes these are sung by different sections of the ensemble, on other occasions by the entire ensemble.

A composer whose works recorded here were definitely not intended for performance in the basilica was Salomone Rossi. He was one of the very few Jewish professional musicians of the baroque era who was able to explore his talents as a composer. In most countries in Europe many restrictions were imposed upon the Jewish communities which were often living in ghettos. That wasn't any different in Mantua. It was due to his close connections to the court of the Gonzagas in this town, where he was born and died, that Rossi was given the privilege of going outside the ghetto without having to wear a yellow star. With his collection of Hebrew Psalms, published in 1622/23 under the title of Hashirim asher lish'lomo, he introduced polyphony in the synagogue. Given the time of publication, the Psalms were rather old-fashioned, as they were written in the stile antico. Even so, many considered his writing a modernism, and did not appreciate his Psalms.

The earliest composer in the programme is Giaches de Wert, who was of Flemish birth, but worked for most of his life in Italy. He was maestro di cappella at the basilica from 1565 until his deteriorating health forced him to give up his duties in favour of Gian Giacomo Gastoldi. Wert became especially famous for his madrigals, and this may well explain the madrigalisms in his sacred music. The best example here is Adesto dolori meo, in which harmony and chromaticism are used to express the text: "I am consumed with my grief, O God, I am too much tormented: my harp has fallen into mourning, my singing into weeping." In Omnis homo primum, about the wedding at Cana, the word "deterius" - is repeated several times, depicting the text "have had much to drink".

Gastoldi has become best-known for his ballettos, but also wrote a large amount of sacred music. Here we get an alternatim setting of the Magnificat for six voices; in the performance the polyphonic parts are sometimes sung by the entire ensemble and sometimes by six solo voices. The disc closes with a short and simple setting of the Marian antiphon Regina coeli for four voices.

Benedetto Pallavicino worked in Mantua at the same time as Claudio Monteverdi, and both were rivals for the main job. Monteverdi did not hesitate to express his lack of appreciation for his colleague. Like Wert, Pallavicino was mainly known as a composer of madrigals. Not often his music is the subject of performances and recordings, and his sacred music is given particularly little attention. In this part of his oeuvre we notice a strong preference for polychoral writing. Both works here are for eight voices in two choirs. In Dum complerentur, a motet for Whitsun, he makes clever use of the cori spezzati technique to emphasize elements in the text. The opening line is alternatively sung by one of the choirs, but they join on the second line, on the text "they were all in one place together". The same happens towards the end of the first part: "and it filled the entire house in which they were". Each line in both parts of this motet close with an "Alleluja". It is a shame that there is too much space between the two parts, which suggests that they are separate works.

Amante Franzoni is the latest composer in the programme. Relatively little is known about him. From 1612 until 1630 he acted as maestro di cappella of the Basilica. It is not known whether he died in 1630 or only retired. Franzoni published four books with secular music for solo voices and basso continuo, except one collection which is for five unaccompanied voices. His first edition of sacred music came from the press in 1611, a book with sacred concertos for one to three voices and basso continuo. Four further editions followed, among them Apparato musicale di messa, sinfonie, canzoni, motetti, & letanie della Beata Vergine, 8vv, b, op. 5 (1613), from which the setting of Dixit Dominus is taken. Again this is a work for eight voices in two choirs. This Psalm includes some quite dramatic verses, in particular the phrase "conquassabit capita in terra multorum" (shatter the skulls in the land of the many). Franzoni does not miss the opportunity to single this out; other verses of comparable character are not given special attention.

It is nice that other composers than Monteverdi are included here, as too often they are neglected. Each of them deserves more attention, as this disc makes clear. The positive impression of their music is also due to the top-class performances of this excellent ensemble. The expression in the various pieces is fully explored. I would have preferred a slightly faster tempo in Monteverdi's Cantate Domino, but that is the only issue I can think of, and it is of minor importance. I have greatly enjoyed these performances, and I hope to hear more from Biscantores in this kind of repertoire.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

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