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Orazio COLOMBANO (COLOMBANI) (c1554 - after 1595): "Psalms for six voices"

Cappella Musicale della Cattedrale di Vercelli
Dir: Denis Silano

rec: Jan 11 - 15, 2018, Vercelli (Piedmont, I), Seminario arcivescovile (chapel)
Brilliant Classics - 95839 ( 2018) (77'48")
Liner-notes: E/I; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

Domine ad adiuvandum
Beatus vir; Confitebor tibi Domine; Credidi; De profundis; Dixit Dominus; Domine probasti me; In convertendo; In exitu Israel; Laetatus sum; Lauda Jerusalem; Laudate Dominum; Laudate pueri; Memento Domine David; Nisi Dominus
Magnificat 8. toni

Source: Harmonia super vespertinos omnium solemnitatem psalmos, 1579

Giulia Musuruane, Teresa Nesci, Serena Romano, soprano; Gianluigi Ghiringhelli, alto; Alberto Allegrezza, Luca Ronzitti, tenor; Davide Benetti, Marco Grattarola, bass

I am always curious about discs devoted to composers I have never heard of. That seemed the case with the present disc, which includes psalm settings by a certain Orazio Colombano. Searching my archive I found out that I actually had heard one of this compositions, but then presented under his name in a somewhat different spelling. In 2015 Signum Classics released a recording of Italian madrigals by The King's Singers, and that includes a madrigal by Oratio Colombani. He turns out to be identical with the Orazio Colombano of the present disc.

Even so, he is largely an unknown quantity, and although he has an entry in New Grove, his whole career is described in just six lines. Apparently very little is known about him. He was from Verona and was a pupil of Costanzo Porta, presumably in Ravenna between 1567 and 1574. During his career he worked at several places as maestro di cappella, such as Milan, Brescia, Venice, Urbino and Padua. The present disc brings us to the early years of his career, when he worked in such a position in Vercelli, an Italian town in the northwest of the country, about halfway between Turin and Milan. In the mid-16th century its cathedral enjoyed the service of several prestigious musicians, some of which were also active at the Ducal chapel of Savoy. For services in the main church, children received a musical education at the Collegio del Innocenti, founded in 1495. They were joined by adult singers as well as instrumentalists. From 1579 to 1581 Colombano was maestro di cappella here.

This was the time he published his first collection of music, printed in Venice in 1579 under the title of Harmonia super vespertinos omnium solemnitatem psalmos. That is the edition recorded here complete. It includes the Psalms of the Vespers liturgy for all obligatory feasts, as established at the Council of Trent, preceded by Deus in adiutorium and followed by the Magnificat.

As one may expect in a collection of sacred music from the 1570s, the music is written in the then common style, dominated by counterpoint. In his later compositions Colombano showed that he was open to new trends, and his latest works point in the direction of what was to come after the turn of the century. In this collection of 1579 we find traces of the latest trends as well, especially in regard to the connection between text and music. These psalms include several specimens of text expression. Laudate pueri is a good example for the way Colombano illustrates words like "high" and "low": "The Lord is high above all nations; and his glory above the heavens. Who is as the Lord our God, who dwelleth on high." Colombano also does not miss the opportunity to create a musical contrast in a phrase as "Raising up the needy from the earth, and lifting up the poor out of the dunghill". In Nisi Dominus the words "bread of sorrow" are set to descending figures. Lauda Jerusalem says that "his word runneth swiftly", and so does the music. References to joy and to songs of praise are expressed in a speeding up of tempo, such as at "let the saints rejoice" in Memento Domine David.

Colombano sometimes turns to homophony to emphasize elements in the text. Examples are "rogate [quae ad pacem sunt Hierusalem]" - pray ye (for the things that are for the peace of Jerusalem) - and "O Domine" (Credidi). Also notable is that Colombano frequently makes use of the technique of antiphonal writing: the scoring for six voices allows for a split of the ensemble into two opposing groups. In exitu Israel and Memento Domine David are among the most striking examples.

Denis Silano has been responsible for the modern edition of the collection, published by Vox Antiqua. It seems to me that it is well worth being investigated by choirs and vocal ensembles which look for something less obvious to perform. It is very fine music and seems not too complicated. The present disc offers an excellent opportunity to become acquainted with these Vesper Psalms. I had not heard this ensemble before; it makes an excellent impression here. The ensemble is immaculate and the elements of text expression are not overlooked.

The booklet omits the lyrics; these are available at the Brilliant Classics website. However, they come without translations, but these can easily be found at the internet (for instance here). Beware that the numbers in the Vulgate are often different from those in most translations of the Bible.

Johan van Veen ( 2019)

Relevant links:

Cappella Musicale della Cattedrale di Vercelli


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