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Giovanni LEGRENZI (1626 - 1690): "Bass Cantatas & Sonatas"

Mauro Borgioni, bass
Mvsica Perdvta

rec: Sept 2 - 4, 2020, Spello, Centro Studi Europeo di Musica Medioevale Adolfo Broegg
Brilliant Classics - 96239 ( 2021) (52'28")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

pi d'eccelso monte; Amore e virt [3]; Cessa d'essere amante [3]; Dal calore agitato; Il mio core non con me [3]; Son canuto e d'un bambin [3]; Sonata L'Obizza 2, op. 8,4 [2]; Sonata La Crispa, op. 8,16 [2]; Sonata La Foscari 2, op. 2,8 [1]; Sorgea dal sen di Lete

Sources: [1] Sonate a due e tre, op. 2, 1655; [2] Sonate a 2, 3, 5, & 6, libro terzo, op. 8, 1663; [3] Cantate e canzonette a voce sola, op. 12, 1676

David Brutto, cornett; Renato Criscuolo, bass violin; Dario Landi, theorbo; Lorenzo Antinori, harpsichord

Giovanni Legrenzi is an important figure in music history. He played a crucial role in the development of instrumental music and is the link between the idiom of the first half of the 17th century and that which was written in the first half of the 18th century by the likes of Vivaldi and Albinoni. Although he published only six collections of instrumental music, that part of his output has received by far the most attention, and in particular his Opus 10, with the title La Cetra. His vocal oeuvre is much larger, comprising ten printed editions as well as a substantial number of pieces that have been preserved in manuscript. Legrenzi also wrote seven oratorios; only three of them have been preserved complete. La morte del cor penitente and Il Sedecia have been recorded.

The present disc includes a mixture of instrumental and secular vocal music. Legrenzi composed a number of operas; as far as I know none of them has been recorded. I can't remember having seen any disc with secular cantatas either. That makes this disc a substantial addition to the discography.

Legrenzi published three collections of secular pieces, with the opus numbers 12, 13 and 14, which appeared between 1676 and 1678. Other pieces have been preserved in manuscript. Four of the items included here are taken from the Op. 12, whereas the other three are from a manuscript preserved at the Bavarian State Library.

The vocal items on this disc are called either cantata or canzonetta. They are not fundamentally different in structure. The canzonettas are mostly shorter, but Cessa d'essere amante, called a cantata, is hardly any longer than Il mio core non con me, which is a canzonetta (here 3'34" vs 3'02"). Most pieces are through-composed, and there is little difference in style within cantatas.

Amore e virt juxtaposes love and virtue. "Combattuto mio cor, che farai tu?" - O heart torn asunder, what will you do? - is used as a kind of refrain in the first half of the cantata. In Sorgea dal sen di Lete the words "surrounded by silence" are sung without basso continuo. The six sections are not fundamentally different in style. A pi d'eccelso monte includes two sections which are called aria, and here we find a rudimentary dacapo form. The first aria comprises two sections; the first line of the first is repeated, which gives the aria a form which can be described as A1A2BA1. In Cessa d'esser Amante, some sections have the traces of what was to become the recitative, as they are rhythmically more free than others. The label aria appears again in Il mio core con me. It refers to passages of a more lyrical character, but there are others that are not fundamentally different, which are not singled out. These cantatas by Legrenzi attest to the fact that the genre had not been standardized in form yet. That was to take place towards the end of the 17th century, especially in the oeuvre of Alessandro Scarlatti.

The vocal items are all scored for bass and basso continuo. The instrumental pieces are scored for two instruments and basso continuo, and taken from two collections. The Opus 2 was printed in 1655 in Venice, and includes 18 sonatas in two and three parts, whereas the Op. 8 dates from 1663 and comprises sonatas in two to six parts. The sonatas selected for this recording are for two melody instruments and basso continuo. It is notable that the second melody instrument is in low pitch, and undoubtedly intended for the bass violin. This was the main string bass at the time; the cello as we know it was to make its appearance in the last quarter of the 17th century. The upper voice may have been originally intended for the violin, but as Legrenzi seems not to have specified the preferred instrument, it is fully legitimate to perform it on the cornett, as is the case here. At the time of publication, that instrument was still very much in vogue in Italy.

Over the years I have heard Mauro Borgioni a number of times in recordings, and although I like his voice, he did not always convince me. Here he is in particularly fine form. He sings with great commitment, and delivers differentiated performances, sometimes forceful, but delicate and intimate on other occasions. He deals well with the coloratura passages. The text is always clearly understandable. In short, his performances are a very convincing case for Legrenzi's cantatas. Mvsica Perdvta is an excellent ensemble, whose director, Renato Criscuolo, is a great promoter of the bass violin, both in solo roles and in the basso continuo. This cannot be appreciated enough, as too often Italian music from before around 1670 is played on the baroque cello, which did not exist at the time. The performances here are outstanding, and that includes David Brutti's at the cornett.

In short, this is a most interesting and musically rewarding recording, which substantially contributes to our knowledge of Giovanni Legrenzi. He once again turns out to have been a very fine composer. Let's hope for more recordings of his oeuvre, most of which is still unexplored.

Johan van Veen ( 2022)

Relevant links:

Mauro Borgioni
Mvsica Perdvta

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