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Marco Antonio CENTORIO (c1600 - 1638): "Vocal and instrumental music"

Cappella Musicale della Cattedrale di Vercelli
Dir: Denis Silano

rec: Jan 8 - 12, 2020, Vercelli (Piedmont, I), Seminario arcivescovile (chapel)
Brilliant Classics - 96242 ( 2020) (60'42")
Liner-notes: E; mo lyrics
Cover, track-list & booklet

Hodie cantant angeli; Jubilat ecclesia; La Centoria; La Coccha; La Gratiosa; La Leggiadra; La Vezzosa; Laudate pueri; O dulcis et bone Jesu (attr); Spargite flores; Vigilate pastores

Brilliant Classics is one of those labels which regularly release discs with music by composers very few music lovers may ever have heard of. The present disc is a good example. Marco Antonio Centorio is a largely unknown quantity; he has no entry in New Grove. All but one of the pieces in the programme are first recordings.

The whole project focuses on Vercelli, a town in Piedmont in northern Italy, west of Milan and Genua. There Centorio was born and there he worked most of his life. From this town are also the performers; the director of the Cappella Musicale della Cattedrale di Vercelli was also born in that town.

Centorio started his musical training as one of the pueri cantus at the Collegio degli Innocenti, an institution founded in the late 15th century to supply Vercelli Cathedral with singers for religious services. When Centurio's voice broke, he moved to Milan to study organ and counterpoint. He returned in 1618 to become organist at Vercelli Cathedral. In 1628 he was appointed maestro di cappella, a postion he held until his early death in 1638.

None of his compositions have been printed. Those works which have been preserved complete, are all part of the Vercelli Chapter Archive. Other pieces have come down to us in fragments. The present disc offers a selection of instrumental and vocal works for different scorings, which bear witness to the mixture of the stile antico and the stile nuovo, which was quite common in his time. Unfortunately, the omission of the lyrics makes the assessment of his oeuvre and of the performances rather hard.

The instrumental works belong among the genre of the canzona, a typical form of the late renaissance. As the name suggests, it has its origin in vocal music, but with time it developed into an indepedent form of instrumental music, either for an ensemble of instruments or for organ. The disc opens with the canzona La Centoria, which is scored for two organs. This was quite common at the time, as many larger churches and basilicas in Italy had two organs at the opposite sides of the choir, which allowed for antiphonal performances of keyboard music. In this case, it is indicated that each organ can be supported by two instruments, either cornett and sackbut or violin and violone. Here each is joined by one instrument, a violin and a violone respectively. The four other canzonas are part of a collection of Canzoni francese, da suonare, 3. Doi Cornetti, te Trombone. They are largely polyphonic; in these pieces sections of different meter alternate.

The vocal items are different in scoring. Spargite flores, here performed by the treble Gianluca Pisa, is for solo voice, two violins and basso continuo, which is the basic scoring of sacred concertos at the time. On the other side of the spectrum we find a piece for eight voices in two choirs. Vigilate pastores is a concerto in dialogo, and is for Christmastide. It is not intended for liturgical use, but rather for the entertainment of the higher echelons of society and church. The scoring is remarkable: four sopranos (undoubtedly to be sung by the pueri cantus of the Collegio), tenor, bass, two recorders and basso continuo.

Most of Centorio's sacred concertos are of the motetto con sinfonia type, which we also know from the oeuvre of, for instance, Alessandro Grandi. A few voices are accompanied by one or several instruments and basso continuo. One of the settings of Laudate pueri is for alto and tenor, with two violins and basso continuo. Hodie cantant angeli is for two sopranos and bass, with an accompaniment of two violins and sackbut, and Jubilat ecclesia for three voices and three instruments. Both pieces are dedicated to Saint Eusebius, the patron saint of Vercelli. O dulcis et bone Jesu, scored for soprano, bass and two recorders, does not mention the name of the composer, but can attributed to Centorio with "relative certainty" (booklet). A second setting of Laudate pueri, which closes this disc, is based on a piece by Tarquinio Merula, from a collection first published between 1633 and 1637 (only the second edition of 1640 has been preserved). It shows that Centorio was familiar with Merula's oeuvre; he copied some of the collection by hand.

It brings to a close a most interesting disc of music by a composer of whom I certainly would like to hear more. The lack of lyrics makes it impossible to assess how the composer treats the text, which is quite interesting, given the coexistence of old and new at his time and in his own oeuvre. The booklet leaves something to be desired, as it not only omits the lyrics, but in its list of the singers also omits the voice types. The soloists do a fine job, and that includes the treble Gianluca Pisa, although his intonation is less than perfect. The vocal ensemble includes some amateurs, but they bring pretty good performances here. I have already heard it in a recording of motets by Orazio Colombano, which I rated positively. My impressions of the Cappella are confirmed here. The instrumentalists deliver excellent performances.

This disc is a valuable addition to your collection of discs. Once again, a composer who is hardly known, turns out to have written music which deserves to be performed and recorded.

Johan van Veen ( 2021)

Relevant links:

Cappella Musicale della Cattedrale di Vercelli

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