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Bonifazio GRAZIANI (1604 - 1665): Vespro della Beata Vergine

Veronika Winter, Hanna Zumsande, soprano; Johannes Euler, alto; Mirko Ludwig, tenor; Ralf Grobe, bass
Collegium Vocale Hannover, la festa musicale
Dir: Florian Lohmann

rec: June 10, 2018 (live), Hanover, Neustdter Hof- und Stadtkirche St. Johannis
Arcantus - arc 19016 ( 2019) (66'54")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet
Scores
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[in order of appearance] Dixit Dominus octo vocibus cum intonatione 1. toni; Salve Regina, canto solo, con le ripieni 4; Laudate pueri Dominum novem vocibus; Laetatus sum novem vocibus; Nisi Dominus octo vocibus; Ave maris stella quinque vocibus in solemnitate Beatae Mariae Virginis; Massimiliano NERI (1615-1666): Sonata XIII 10; Bonifazio GRAZIANI: Magnificat novem vocibus 4. toni

[soli from the choir] Julia Meinecke, Biljana Wittstock, soprano; Maximilian Kloth, Hartwig Meynecke, tenor; Jonas Alpmann, bass
[lfm] Nria Sanrom Gabs, Matthijs Lunenburg, cornett; Till Krause, Cameron Drayton, Ercole Nisini, sackbut; Jennifer Harris, dulcian; Anne Marie Harer, Iris Mmaron, violin; Maria Pache, Karoline Steidl, viola; Christoph Harer, cello; Frauke Hess, violone; Maximilian Ehrhardt, harp; Andreas Baur, lute; Avinoam Shalev, organ

Music by Bonifazio Graziani does not appear very often in concerts and on disc. Some years ago Naxos released two discs with oratorios and motets from his pen, but these seem to be the only recordings entirely devoted to his oeuvre. In modern performance practice he is probably overshadowed by his more famous contemporary Giacomo Carissimi.

San Marino is the town where Graziani grew up. It should not be confused with the republic of San Marino, an enclave near the Adriatic coast. This San Marino is near Rome and now part of the province of Rome. It was also the town where Carissimi was born. As they were almost exact contemporaries, they must have known each other, probably from early on, but certainly when they both worked in Rome. Graziani served as a priest in Marino and in nearby Frascati. In 1646 he moved to Rome where he was appointed maestro di cappella at Il Ges and the Seminario Romano. Under his guidance the choir of Il Ges grew considerably and it seems likely that he composed his large-scale vocal works for this choir. In the 1650s his compositions started to be published. In 1658 he was appointed cappellano at the Jesuit novitiate house of S Andrea and he was also active in the Congregazione dei Musici di S Cecilia.

Graziani has left a considerable oeuvre. He composed some madrigals and two oratorios, but the largest part of his oeuvre consists of liturgical music. Between 1650 and 1678 23 collections of motets, sacred concertos, responsories, antiphons and hymns, as well as two books with masses were printed. The posthumous editions were published by his brothers. Graziani's style shows much similarity with that of Carissimi, and it documents the shift from the strictly monodic style of the early 17th century towards a more lyrical way of composing which manifested itself in the second half of the century. We see the same in the oeuvre of, for instance, Francesco Cavalli. The present disc focuses on the Psalmi vespertini binis choris, Op. 17, which dates from 1670. As the title indicates, these pieces are scored for two choirs of either four or five voices each. They are accompanied by basso continuo alone, but in this performance, they are supported by strings and winds, playing colla voce. In most pieces, solo voices and tutti alternate; the exception is Dixit Dominus, which is entirely set for tutti. This piece is predominantly homophonic; elsewhere polyphony and homophony alternate.

The programme is presented as a Vesper service, but that should not be taken too literally. The common antiphons are omitted, either in plainchant or in polyphony. The Vespers open with Dixit Dominus, which is followed by a setting of the Salve Regina, one of the Marian antiphons. I wonder why it has been included: it is not part of Marian Vespers (it is not included, for instance, in Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610) and why it should be sung between Dixit Dominus and Laudate pueri Dominum. This antiphon is not from the Op. 17 collection, nor is the hymn Ave maris stella, which is performed between Nisi Dominus and the Magnificat.

In Dixit Dominus, Graziani did not overlook the dramatic elements in the text. "Confregit" (shall strike) is repeated a number of times, and "' conquassabit" (wound [the heads]) is also singled out. The Salve Regina is constructed as an alternation of soprano solo and tutti; the title says Canto Solo, con le Ripieni 4. The soprano part is technically demanding, especially because of its tessitura. This piece is not for double choir, and the same goes for Ave maris stella, which is for five voices. In the latter all the stanzas are set to the same music. Most pieces include several specimens of text expression. In Laudate pueri Dominum the words "in coelo et in terra" are juxtaposed in pitch, and in Nisi Dominus the words "panem doloris" (bread of sorrows) are eloquently illustrated. As is so often the case in Vespers, the Magnificat includes the most virtuosic solo parts. Here, for instance, two basses dwell on the words "in brachio suo" ([he hath shewed strength] with his arm). The Magnificat is preceded by the Sonata XIII by Massimiliano Neri, an organist and composer who worked most of his life in Venice.

This release of music by Bonifazio Graziani shows that his oeuvre deserves much more attention than it has received so far. The works performed here are of very fine quality, and make curious for other parts of his output. This recording of a live performance in June 2018 in Hanover does full justice to the music's qualities. Florian Lohmann has brought together five outstanding soloists, who have much experience in early music and whose performances are stylistically fully convincing. The Collegium Vocale Hannover is a fine choir, but I would have preferred a much smaller ensemble. And that brings me to the one big issue of this performance.

Graziani's music is performed here as if it was written for soloists and choir. However, that is a kind of scoring which became the standard towards the end of the 18th century. Until that time, all music was written for an ensemble of voices and/or instruments, whose members took care of solo episodes. The fact that the number of voices, such as octo vocibus, is usually unspecified, bears witness to that. It is a shame that this is ignored in this performance (and it is certainly not the only case). This music requires a stronger connection between solo and tutti passages than is the case here.

However, this should not prevent you from adding this disc to your collection. It is a meaningful and musically enjoyable addition to the discography of Italian sacred music of the 17th century. It is to be hoped that more of Graziani's music is going to be recorded.

Johan van Veen ( 2020)

Relevant links:

Johannes Euler
Ralf Grobe
Mirko Ludwig
Hanna Zumsande
Collegium Vocale Hannover
la festa musicale


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