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Antonio NOLA (1642 - after 1715): "Mass for 5 voices, two violins, cello and organ"

Ensemble Festina Lente
Dir: Michele Gasbarro

rec: Nov 24, 2019 (live), Rome, Basilica di Sant'Apollinare
Aulicus Classics - ALC 0070 (© 2022) (73'45")
Liner-notes: E; no lyrics
Cover, track-list & booklet

Cristoforo CARESANA (1640-1709): Salve Regina; Antonio NOLA: Mass for 5 voices, 2 violins and bc; Giovanni SALVATORE (1611-1688): Canzona francese IIa; Versettoa; Andrea ZIANI (1616-1684): Sonata III

Alena Danceva, Francesca Cassinari, soprano; Marta Fumagalli, contralto; Gianluca Ferrarini, tenor; Mauro Borgioni, bass
Paolo Perrone, Gabriele Politi, violin; Andrea Lattarulo, cello; Maria De Martini, bassoon; Matteo Coticoni, double bass; Michele Carreca, theorbo; Alesandro Albenga, organ (soloa)

In 2019 Antonio Florio, expert in Neapolitan music, performed a programme of music by Antonio Nola at the Misteria Paschalia Festival at Cracow (Poland), which was recorded and released by the Italian label Dynamic. That was the first time I had ever heard of this composer, about whom very little is known. The year of his birth is known, but not the year of his death. At the Dynamic disc it is given as "after 1713", the disc under review says "after 1715". We do know that he was from Naples, where he also received his musical education at the Pietà dei Turchini Conservatory, which at the time was directed by Giovanni Salvatore, one of the great masters of the keyboard. After concluding his studies, Nola was appointed organist at Naples Cathedral. He began to collaborate with the Philippine Oratorio dei Girolamini, which was a centre of the performance of sacred music. Documents indicate that Nola had become a priest. At his death, he left his entire oeuvre to the Oratorio. It comprises about 150 pieces, dated between 1669 and 1713.

Florio offered a survey of Nola's sacred oeuvre, with some Psalm settings, motets and a setting of the Stabat mater. A notable feature is the participation of violins in several of these pieces, and they also take part in the performance of Nola's Mass for five voices. It is a rather long work, taking about 50 minutes it total. It is divided into verses for various scorings, from one to five voices. The Kyrie opens with an instrumental introduction, after which the voices enter. The vocal parts in this mass include quite some coloratura. The violins play different roles: sometimes they have independent parts, on other occasions they play colla voce.

In the Gloria, it is notable that the second verse, "Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis", is the longest section, partly due to the slow tempo. It was customary to set the 'Laudamus te' for solo voice(s), and that is the case here as well: it is scored for two sopranos; the violins have concertante parts. 'Domine Deus' is fugal, 'Qui tollis peccata mundi, suscipe' is a solo for bass and 'Quiniam to solus sanctus' a duet for alto and tenor. The Credo also has a little surprise: the 'Crucifixus' is longer than 'Et incarnatus est'; in most mass settings it is the other way around. Both sections are set to a slow tempo, and especially 'Et incarnatus est' includes some dissonances. 'Et resurrexit' is very short, and is set as a duet for two sopranos. Like the first Kyrie, the Agnus Dei opens with an instrumental introduction.

The mass as a whole is introduced by a Versetto by Nola's teacher Salvatore. His Canzona francese II is performed between the Gloria and the Credo. The latter is separated from the Sanctus by the Sonata III for two violins and basso continuo by Andrea Ziani, who was from Venice, where he worked for several periods; he was also active in Vienna. At the last stage of his career he worked in Naples as maestro di cappella at the court. He was also teacher at the Conservatorio S Onofrio. One of his pupils was Cristofori Caresana, not in Naples, but in Venice, where he was born. He settled in Naples in 1658; in 1659 he entered the service of the Royal Chapel, first as a tenor, and from 1667 as an organist. In the late 1680s he worked as a teacher at the Sant'Onofrio a Capuana Conservatoire. In 1699 he succeeded Francesco Provenzale as maestro di cappella at the Tesoro di San Gennaro. During his career he wrote music for several institutions; one of them was the Oratorio dei Padri Filippini, where most of his extant compositions are preserved. His Salve Regina is a piece of great intensity, and brings this disc to a close.

When I heard Florio's recording of Nola's music, I was impressed by its quality. The mass performed here confirms my impressions. It seems that Nola's entire oeuvre has been preserved, and I hope that we will hear more of his music in live performances and recordings. The performance of the mass, recorded live during a festival in Rome, leaves nothing to be desired. It is a performance with one voice per part; the booklet offers very little information about the composer and nothing about the performance. I would have liked to know what the size of the ensembles at the time in Naples was. Musically speaking this line-up works very well, as the voices blend nicely. There are fine contributions from the instrumentalists, and Alessandro Albenga is responsible for the excellent performances of the organ works.

This is a splendid disc which deserves its place in any collection. The booklet omits the lyrics, but these are well-known and easily accessible at the internet.

Johan van Veen (© 2024)

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