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Paolo ARETINO (1508 - 1584): "Sabbato Sancto - Lamentationes et Responsoria"

Dir: Paolo Da Col

rec: August 24 - 27, 2021, Arezzo, Chiesa di Sant'Ignazio
Arcana - A551 (© 2023) (63'10")
Liner-notes: E/F/IT; lyrics - translations: E/F/IT
Cover, track-list & booklet

[in order of appearance] [In Primo Notturno] Lectio I (Caph. Non enim humiliavit); Responsorium I (Sicut ovis); Lectio II (Nun. Scrutemur vias nostras); Responsorium II (Ierusalem, luge); Lectio III (Incipit oratorio Jeremiae prophetae); Responsorium III (Plange quasi virgo plebs mea)
[In Secundo Nocturno] Responsorium IV (Recessit pastor noster); Responorium V (O vos omnes); Responsorium VI (Ecce quomodo moritur iustus)
[In Tertio Nocturno] Responsorium VII (Astiterunt reges); Responsorium VIII (Aestimatus sum); Responsorium IX (Sepulto Domino)

Sources: Sacra Responsoria tum Natali Domini, tum Iovis, Veneris, ac Sabbati Sancti diebus dici solita, 1544; Piae ac devotissimae Lamentationes Hyeremie prophete tum etiam Passiones Hiesu Christi dominice Palmarum ac Veneris Sancti, 1546/15632

Gianluigi Ghiringhelli, alto; Giuseppe Maletto, Massimo Altieri, Vincenzo Di Donato, Gianluca Ferrarini, tenor; Mauro Borgioni, Gabriele Lombardi, baritone; Enrico Bava, Matteo Bellotti, bass

Every year during Lent - the period of forty days leading to Easter - a large and varied repertoire of music is performed which was written during the renaissance and baroque periods. Apart from the Passions of Johann Sebastian Bach, settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah and the so-called Tenebrae Responsories figure prominently in concerts and on disc. As far as the latter are concerned, the settings by Tomás Luis de Victoria and Carlo Gesualdo are the best-known and most famous. The disc under review comprises settings by a little-known contemporary: Paolo Aretino.

He was baptized with the name Paolo Antonio Del Bivi, but was known already in his own time as Paolo Aretino. This name is derived from Arezzo, the town where he was born and where he lived and worked as a priest and composer all his life. He was in close contact with composers from Florence, a little over 70 kilometres northwest of Arezzo, in particular Francesco Corteccia. It has been suggested that he was Corteccia's pupil, but there is no documentary evidence of that. From 1530 to 1532 he was a singing teacher at S Maria del Pieve and later at the Cathedral, and from 1545 until his death as a canon and head of music at S Maria delle Pieve again.

Aretino's oeuvre is not very large, and was published between 1544 and 1569: responsories, lamentations, Magnificat settings and a St John Passion. He also published two books with madrigals. A collection of hymns for the entire ecclesiastical year has been lost. The present disc includes the Responsories from Sacra Responsoria tum Natali Domini, tum Iovis, Veneris, ac Sabbati Sancti diebus dici solita (1544) and the lamentations from Piae, ac devotissimae Lamentationes Hieremiae prophetae, which was published in 1546 and reprinted in 1563.

The Lamentations and the Responsories are the heart of the Office for Holy Week. The Lamentations of Jeremiah bemoan the destruction of Jerusalem and were used as metaphors for the passion and death of Christ. The Responsories deal more directly with this subject. Some refer to texts from those chapters in the Gospels which report about Jesus' Passion. The structure of the responsories is ABCB: first the two halves of the responsory are sung (AB), then the verse (C), which is followed by a repeat of the second half of the responsory (B).

It was only at the end of the 15th century that the pieces which constitute the Office were set polyphonically, but this practice became common in the course of the 16th century. The first printed edition with polyphonic Lamentations are two volumes published in 1506 by Ottaviano Petrucci in Venice. Aretino's volume of 1555 is the oldest printed edition (hitherto known) of responsories.

There were different traditions in Italy with regard to the performance of Lamentations and Responsories. At some places all were sung in polyphony, but elsewhere the Lamentations were sung polyphonically and the Responsories in plainchant. The choice of vocal ranges also differed, as the use of clefs indicates. However, that is of limited importance as it was common practice to adapt the pitch of the parts to the voices that were available.

A feature of the Lamentations and Responsories by Aretino is that they are largely homorhythmic, notated in breves and semibreves, and always in duple metre. This results in a fairly slow tempo, which is only at some moments varied when some words or phrases ask for it. We are far away here from 'expression', as we find it in the Responsories by Carlo Gesualdo. Even so, there are hints of it. A striking moment is in Responsorium VIII (Aestimatus sum), where the words "sine adiutorio" (without help), are sung by a single voice. The slow tempo is appropriate given the content of these texts, as is the fact that descending figures are a dominating feature of these settings. In the verses of the responsories the number of voices is reduced, creating a contrast to the two main sections.

The closing Benedictus - the Canticle of Zechariah - brings a bit of light, according to the text, which speaks of redemption and salvation. It is an alternatim setting: the even-numbered verses are sung in plainchant. Rodobaldo Tibaldi, in his liner-notes, states that the contrast to the Lamentations and Responsories "is underscored also by the use of four unequal voices and a consequent upward shift of the overall tessitura (canto, two altos, baritone), a shift that also assumes a symbolic function." From that angle it is a bit disappointing that it was decided to transpose it down by a third.

If one knows the settings of Gesualdo one may miss the strong expression of those pieces. This is a different style, more comparable to the settings of Tomás Luis de Victoria. However, they are very well written, and I found them moving in their own way. The ten voices in relatively low tessitura (one male alto, five tenors, two baritones, two basses) and the slow tempo work wonders and help these pieces to make a strong impression. That is also due to the excellent singing: the ensemble is impeccable, with a perfect balance between the voice groups, and the transparency makes it possible to hear the text very clearly.

This unknown music by Aretino is an important addition to the repertoire for Lent and especially Holy Week. I hope that more of Aretino's oeuvre, and in particular the remaining parts of his music for Passiontide, is going to be recorded in the coming years.

Johan van Veen (© 2024)

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