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Claudio MONTEVERDI & Giovanni GABRIELI: "Easter Celebration at St Mark's in Venice 1600"

Elisabetta Braschi, Elisabetta Caruso, Sumiko Okawa, soprano; Simone Emili, Kentaro Kitaya, tenor
Ensemble Capriccio Armonico; Ensemble San Felice
Dir: Federico Bardazzi

rec: April 2017, Florence, Folco Portinari
Brilliant Classics - 95747 ( 2018) (63'09")
Liner-notes: E/I; no lyrics
Cover, track-list & booklet
Scores Gabrieli
Scores Monteverdi

[in order of appearance] Giovanni GABRIELI (c1554/57-1612): Toccata del 2 tono (C 236)a; plainchant: [introitus] Resurrexi et adhuc tecum sum (IV) [1]; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Missa a 4 da cappella (SV 257) (Kyrie; Gloria) [6]; plainchant: [graduale] Haec dies es quam fecit Dominus (II) [1]; Giovanni GABRIELI: Canzona II a 4 (C 187) [2]; Claudio MONTEVERDI: Laudate Dominum (SV 287) [6]; plainchant: [alleluia] Pascha nostrum immolatus est Christus (IV) [1]; [sequentia] Victimae paschali laudes (I) [1]; Claudio MONTEVERDI: Cantate Domino (SV 292); Missa a 4 da cappella (SV 257) (Credo); Giovanni Paolo CIMA (c1570-1630): Sonata a 3 [4]; plainchant: [offertorium] Terra tremuit (IV) [1]; Giovanni GABRIELI: Canzon I La Spiritata (C 186) (intabulation Girolamo Diruta)a [3]; Claudio MONTEVERDI: Missa a 4 da cappella (SV 257) (Sanctus) [6]; Giovanni GABRIELI: Ricercar 9. toni (C 226)a; Claudio MONTEVERDI: Missa a 4 da cappella (SV 257) (Agnus Dei) [6]; plainchant: [communio] Pascha nostrum immaculatus est Christus (VI) [1]; Giovanni GABRIELI: Canzona III a 4 (C 188) [2]; Claudio MONTEVERDI: Vespro della Beata Vergine (SV 206) (Ave maris stella) [5]

sources: [1] Graduale Giunta, 1572; [2] Alessandro Raverii, ed., Canzoni per sonare con ogni sorte di stromenti a quattro, cinque e otto, 1608; [3] Girolamo Diruta, Il transilvano dialogo sopra il vero modo di sonar organi, et istromenti da penna, 16092 ; [4] Giovanni Paolo Cima, Concerti ecclesiastici, 1610; Claudio Monteverdi, [5] Sanctissimae Virgini missa senis vocibus ad ecclesiarum choros ac vesperae pluribus decantandae cum nonnullis sacris concentibus, ad sacella sive principum cubicula accommodata, 1610; [6] Selva morale e spirituale, 1640/41

[ESF] Marco Di Manno, Ilaria Guasconini, recorder; Mauro Morini, Saverio Zacchei, sackbut; Federico Bardazzi, cello; Matteo Prandini, double bass; Andrea Benucci, theorbo; Giacomo Benedetti, harpsichord; Dimitri Betti, organ (soloa); Elia Ciuffini, percussion

Every year many recordings of sacred music from the 16th and 17th centuries are released. More often than not, masses and motets are performed separately, in the form of a concert, which is the most common way early music is sung and played these days. However, such pieces were never intended for such performances, and the same goes for much later music, such as the cantatas and passions by Johann Sebastian Bach. They were written for liturgical performance, and they lose something of their meaning and impact, if they are performed outside a liturgical setting. Therefore it is most interesting and makes much sense, if performers try to put them into their liturgical context. There has been a time that 'liturgical reconstructions' were quite popular. Paul McCreesh once was a pioneer in this field, and this resulted in some excellent projects, which are still well worth listening to.

It is understandable that such reconstructions are rare. It takes much effort to put together a liturgical framework which has some plausibility. The problem is that we mostly don't know what exactly a liturgical event looked like, and if we do, we seldom know which music was performed. In almost any case a liturgical reconstruction is imaginary and based on guesswork. That is not a problem, if it is done in a convincing way. That is not the case with the present recording, I'm afraid.

It makes sense to bring Giovanni Gabrieli and Claudio Monteverdi together in one programme. They were partly contemporaries, and although they belong to different eras from a stylistic point of view, there is certainly some common ground between them. Gabrieli's music is rooted in the stile antico, but in his last collection of sacred works, the Symphoniae Sacrae, some pieces include elements of the stile nuovo, which emerged around 1600. Monteverdi, on the other hand, although being a representative of the latter, also composed pieces in the old style, such as the Missa In illo tempore, which he included in his edition of the Vespers in 1610. Even in the Selva morale e spirituale of 1640/41 we find a mass in the stile antico. However, the "Easter Celebration at St Mark's in Venice" performed here is dated at around 1600. Although the 1640 edition includes music written over a longer period of time, it is unlikely that the mass already existed at the time. And if it did, it was almost certainly not known in Venice, as at that time Monteverdi still worked in Mantua.

The same goes for the two sacred concertos, Cantate Domino and Laudate Dominum, published in 1615 and 1641 respectively. The celebrations end with the Ave maris stella from the Vespers of 1610, again a piece which cannot have been performed in Venice around 1600. As a result this 'reconstruction' lacks any credibility.

The performances don't give much reason to celebrate either. There is quite some vibrato in the solo voices, which not only sing in the two sacred concertos, but also in some episodes in the mass. Bardazzi treats this piece with much freedom. He uses instruments to play colla voce, which is certainly a legitimate option. However, they also play preludes and interludes, and that seems a questionable practice. Even more debatable is the frequent use of percussion. I already noted this in my review of Bardazzi's recording of Monteverdi's Vespers. Having admitted that "military drums were not allowed in churches" at the time, Bardazzi claims that "the very existence of a prohibition implies that the practice had already been fairly widespread. Moreover, we have documentary evidence of the use of percussion instruments in sacred music for the liturgy during the Counter-Reformation, particularly in Spain, but also in Italy. Furthermore, while the use of timpani (a pitched instrument) requires a dedicated musical part, the drum could simply be added, like the wind and string instruments, without needing a separate notated line and was often used for rhythmic ostinatos and to emphasize the syllabic or melodic stress of the polyphonic lines." In my review of Bardazzi's recording of the Vespers I commented that I would like to see some historical evidence of the use of percussion in liturgical music, especially as it - as far as I know - has never been included in other recordings of this kind of repertoire. And even if that evidence exists, I can't see any justification for including percussion as indiscriminately as is the case here. It participates in all movements of the mass, with the exception of the Agnus Dei. It is even used in one episode in Laudate Dominum. Do we really have to believe that percussion was used in a piece for solo voice and basso continuo?

Gabrieli is represented only with instrumental music, among them two canzonas. The instrumentation is left to the performers, but the combination of recorders and sackbuts is a rather unlikely one, and is not very satisfying: the two pairs of instruments don't blend that well, and the balance is less than ideal. And, inevitably, again percussion is included. The organ pieces are by far the best part of this disc.

The plainchant is taken from a collection of 1572. In comparison to the pieces by Gabrieli and Monteverdi, these chants are sung at some distance, and as a result next to nothing of the text is intelligible. The omission of the lyrics in the booklet does not help. The recording is problematic anyway. Monteverdi's Credo, for instance, is sung at a pretty high speed, and in combination with the reverberant acoustic, this results in a lack of clarity. The almost complete separation of the left and right channel in Ave maris stella is unnatural and uncomfortable.

All in all, this disc is a major disappointment. The concept lacks any plausibility, the performances and the recording are unsatisfying, and the performance practice raises some questions which have yet to be answered. Therefore I can't recommend this disc, also because all the pieces included here are available in better performances.

Johan van Veen ( 2019)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Capriccio Armonico
Ensemble San Felice

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