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"Monteverdi & Friends - Vespro da Camera"

Marie Luise Werneburg, soprano; Alexander Schneider, alto; Johannes Gaubitz, tenor; Dominik Wörner, bass
Musica Fiata
Dir: Roland Wilson

rec: Sept 7 - 10, 2019, Berlin-Wannsee, Andreaskirche
CPO - 555 317-2 (© 2021) (76'18")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

[in order of appearance] Biagio MARINI (1594-1663): Domine ad adiuvandum [9]; Giovanni ROVETTA (1595-1668): Dixit Dominus [3]; Dario CASTELLO (1602-1631): Sonata IX à 3, doi soprani e fagotto [1]; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Confitebor tibi Domine (SV 194) [8]; Alessandro GRANDI (?-1630): Exaudi me Domine [2]; Giovanni ROVETTA: Beatus vir a 5; Dario CASTELLO: Sonata VIII à 2, soprano e fagotto [1]; Giovanni Antonio RIGATTI (1613-1648): Laudate pueri a 5 [5]; Dario CASTELLO: Sonata III à 2 soprani [1]; Claudio MONTEVERDI: Laudate Dominum (SV 197a) [8]; Iste Confessor (SV 278b) [6]; Giovanni ROVETTA: Magnificat a 6 [3]; Giovanni Antonio RIGATTI: Ave Regina coelorum [7]; Giovanni ROVETTA: Litaniae della beatae Vergine a 4 [4]

Sources: [1] Dario Castello, Sonate concertate in stil moderno per sonar nel organo overo spineta con diversi instrumenti, libro primo, 1621; [2] Leonardo Simonetti, ed., Ghirlanda Sacra, 1625; Giovanni Rovetta, [3] Salmi concertati et altri con violini, con motetti et alcune canzoni per sonar, op. 1, 1626; [4] Motetti concertati, con le Litanie della madonna, et una messa concertata a voci pari, op. 3, 1635; [5] Giovanni Antonio Rigatti, Messa e salmi parte concertati, 1640; [6] Claudio Monteverdi, Selva morale e spirituale, 1641; [7] Giovanni Antonio Rigatti, Salmi diversi di Compieta, parte con istromenti e parte senza, con tutte le antiphone dell'anno, 1646; [8] Claudio Monteverdi, Messa et salmi concertati, e parte da cappella, & con le Letanie della B.V., 1650; [9] Biagio Marini, Salmi per tutte le solennità dell’anno concertati nel moderno stile, op. 18, 1653

Roland Wilson, cornett; Claudia Mende, violin; Adrian Rovatkay, bassoon; Axel Wolf, chitarrone; Arno Schneider, organ

The composers of the early 17th century whose music is frequently performed in our time, were mostly in the service of a court or church, where they had many singers and instrumentalists at their disposal to write and perform music in large scorings. That was certainly the case in Venice, where the basilica of St Mark's was the centre of religious and political life. The splendour of the basilica and its music aimed at reflecting the power of the city and its rulers. However, when composers wanted to publish their sacred works, they had to take into account that many churches and chapels had to deal with far more modest musical establishments. In order to guarantee a good sale, they had to offer opportunities for the performance of their music in such circumstances. They did so by indicating that the instrumental parts could be omitted or that instruments could be added, playing colla voce. In most cases, the number of voices was at the discretion of performers anyway. Many pieces could be performed with one voice per part, whereas larger establishments could add ripienists, if that was possible and considered appropriate.

Modern performers like to focus on music for large scorings, including polychoral works, by Venetian composers of the 16th and early 17th centuries. The fact that the sacred concertos by Alessandro Grandi, for some time Monteverdi's colleague at St Mark's, don't enjoy that much interest, attests to that. It is nice that now and then performers turn to smaller-scale music, which undoubtedly played an important part in music life at the time. Roland Wilson, in his liner-notes, writes that "Monteverdi himself wrote that he made as much money through outside engagements as he made from his main employment." He not only composed music for St Mark's - where performances of large-scale music was confined to special occasions anyway - but also for smaller churches and chapels, and for private palaces. The programme Wilson has recorded under the title of "Vespro da Camera", is undoubtedly inspired by the former, as in private palaces separate pieces may have been performed - as part of entertainment, but also of private worship - but probably not a complete liturgical framework, as Wilson offers here.

That is to say: there is no plainchant. We get here the fixed parts of a Vesper service - five psalms and the Magnificat - and a setting of the Litanies to close the event. The psalms are not preceded by an antiphon, as was custom in Vesper services. However, each psalm is followed by a vocal concerto or a sonata; in Vesper services such pieces were often included to substitute for the repeat of the antiphon.

Although Monteverdi seems to be the main composer in the programme, as the title of the disc suggests, only three pieces from his pen are included. Two of his colleagues, Giovanni Rovetta and Giovanni Rigatta, play an important role here, and the instrumental music is taken from the first book of Dario Castello's Sonate Concertate.

Rovetta was born in Venice and may have been a choirboy at St Mark's, although there is no documentary evidence for that. However, his father played the violin in the cappella of the basilica between 1614 and 1641. Giovanni also first appeared as a player in the cappella in 1614. Until the end of his life he was connected in one way or another with this church. In 1623 he was appointed a bass singer and in 1627 he succeeded Alessandro Grandi as assistant maestro di cappella to Claudio Monteverdi, whom he succeeded after the latter's death in 1643. In his capacity as a composer he was especially active in the field of sacred music. The first collection of psalms, motets and canzonas was published in 1626 as his op. 1. Some of the pieces in the programme are taken from this collection.

Rigatti was also from Venice, became a choirboy at St Mark's in 1621 and was educated for a career in the church. From 1635 to 1637 he acted as maestro di cappella of Udine Cathedral. His salary was twice that of his predecessor, which says something about his status. In 1639 he started teaching at the Ospedale dei Mendicanti and later also the Ospedale degli Incurabili in Venice. At the end of his life he became sottocanonico of St Mark's, but he died only after about fifteen months in office. Rigatti published two collections of secular music, in 1636 and 1641 respectively. However, the largest part of his output comprises sacred music. In 1634 he published a collection of motets, which was followed by eight further editions; in addition compositions from his pen were included in anthologies. Most of his compositions include obbligato parts for instruments. A large part of his sacred oeuvre can be performed in various scorings, from a small group of voices and instruments to a large ensemble with a ripieno choir and additional instruments.

The service opens with a setting of the response Domine ad adiuvandum in a setting for bass solo and three instruments by Biagio Marini, one of the main representatives of the stile nuovo. He was born in Brescia and was educated as a violinist, His first position as a professional musician was that of the violin at St Mark's in Venice in 1615. During his career he worked at many places, such as Parma, Neuburg an die Donau, Brussels, Milan, Bergamo, Düsseldorf and Ferrara. He moved back and forth between various cities, which undoubtedly tells us something about his reputation. Marini was also a prolific composer. His Op. 1 was printed in 1617, his Op. 22 in 1655. At least seven volumes are lost, which makes it impossible to say whether instrumental or vocal music took the most important role in his oeuvre. Among his extant works the collections with only instrumental music are by far in the minority. Even so, that is virtually the only part of his oeuvre which is performed and recorded. His vocal music is badly represented on disc. That makes the inclusion of this vocal piece all the more important. It shows that he was a fine composer for the voice. The piece is preceded by the supplication placed at the beginning of each canonical hour, Deus in adiutorium meum intende, sung here in plainchant by the tenor.

Dixit Dominus by Rovetta is scored for six voices: four vocal and two instrumental (cornett, violin). It opens with an instrumental sinfonia, and the text is divided among the solo voices and the tutti. The latter undoubtedly can be performed by one voice per part (as is the case here) as well as with additional ripienists. His setting of Beatus vir has been preserved in manuscript, as part of the famous Düben Sammlung from Uppsala. It is scored for five voices, three vocal (STB) and two instrumental. Rovetta's setting of the Magnificat is again from the collection of 1626 and scored for six voices (SATB, cornett, violin). He is also the composer of the Litaniae della beatae Vergine, which is from a collection of 1635. In line with the nature of the text its scoring is moderate: four voices and basso continuo without any additional instruments. This text has been set many times by composers who have treated it differently; some used a double choir and allocated the two halves of each line - "Sancta Maria / ora pro nobis" etc - to each of them respectively. Rovetta follows a different pattern, and sometimes takes two lines together.

Claudio Monteverdi is represented with three pieces. Confitebor tibi Domine is among his best-known sacred works, but it is mostly the version for soprano solo that is performed. Here we get the second version for two voices (soprano and tenor). Wilson states that it is impossible to say which of the two came first: whether the two-voice version is an expansion of a solo setting or the solo version a reduction. This version is lesser-known, but is certainly not inferior to the solo version. It is taken from the posthumous collection of 1650, and that also goes for Laudate Dominum, scored for bass solo and basso continuo. Stylistically it is not different from Marini's setting of Domine ad adiuvandum; both are brilliant examples of the monodic style. Iste confessor is an alternatim piece: only the verses 1, 3 and 5 are set. Wilson suggests that the other verses may have been recited during the instrumental ritornello. I am not sure whether he is right and wonder why it may not have been performed like other alternatim pieces for the liturgy, with the omitted verses being sung in plainchant.

Laudate pueri by Rigatti is taken from his second printed edition of 1640, which includes a mass and psalms for three to eight voices, two violins and basso continuo, with other instruments ad libitum. This setting is for five voices: three vocal (SAB) and two instruments (here cornett and violin). Ave Regina coelorum is taken from a collection of Psalms for one to four voices, some with and some without additional instruments. This piece is for soprano and basso continuo, and another brilliant example of the monodic style.

That also goes for the only piece by the above-mentioned Grandi, who during his time in Venice did not get many opportunities to compose large-scale works and focused on the composition of sacred concertos for solo voices, often with additional instruments. He was a real master in this department, and Exaudi me Domine for solo voice and basso continuo is a perfect example. It is performed here by alto and chitarrone.

The instrumental works are from the pen of Dario Castello. He was the director of the wind ensemble of San Marco, but that is as much as we know about him. Castello's name is not to be found in the lists of payments to musicians at San Marco. However, there were two players with the surname Castello: the trombonist Francesco Castello and Giovanni Battista Castello, who first acted as violinist and then as bassoonist. Wilson assumes that the latter could be the same as Dario, who may have published his music under another Christian name because Giovanni Battista was a very common name at the time. If Dario is indeed the same as that Giovanni Battista this could explain the notably virtuosic bassoon parts in his sonatas. In Castello's sonatas we note the use of the echo technique that was so popular at the time, especially in vocal music (a famous example is the concerto Audi coelum in Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610). The polychoral texture of some vocal music offered the possibility of this technique, but in instrumental music for a small ensemble, as in Castello's sonatas, it is realised by a single instrument, switching from forte to piano. The Sonata IX is an example of this practice. In the Sonata VIII the bassoon plays a prominent role.

A disc like this attests to the astonishing quality of what was written in the first half of the 17th century in Italy, and in particular in Venice and its surroundings. Today Monteverdi overshadows almost any of his contemporaries. Fortunately there are performers who are willing to look beyond the oeuvre he produced and bring some other composers of his time to our attention. Both Rigatta and Rovettti are certainly not ignored, but they still don't receive the attention they deserve. In addition, this disc pays attention to the smaller-scale works that were written at the time, and that kind of repertoire was probably much more common and much more sizeable than the large-scale works which figure prominently in many recordings on the market.

During his career Roland Wilson has produced a substantial number of recordings of remarkable quality, and the disc reviewed here is no exception. We have four excellent singers, who show a full command of what was the ideal of the time, known as recitar cantando. The pieces performed here require a declamatory way of singing, and that is exactly what we get here. The singers are supported by a top-class instrumental ensemble. The result is a superb disc, which has everything one would like to hear in music of early baroque Italy.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Johannes Gaubitz
Alexander Schneider
Marie Luise Werneburg
Dominik Wörner
Musica Fiata

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