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"Chamber Vespers - Miniature Masterpieces of the Italian Baroque"

The Gonzaga Band

rec: August 4 - 6, 2010, London, St-Jude-at-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb
Chandos - CHAN 0782 ( 2011) (62'16")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translation: E
Cover, tracklist & booklet

Adriano BANCHIERI (1568-1634): Dixit Dominusabe [3]; Magnificatabcef [3]; Maurizio CAZZATI (1616-1678): Regina caeliacdef [10]; Giovanni Paolo CIMA (c1570-1630): Sonata per cornettocef [2]; Archangelo CROTTI (fl 1608): [Sonata sopra] Sancta Mariaacde [1]; Giacomo FINETTI (fl 1605-1631): Laudate pueriabcef [4]; Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): Canzon III per basso soloef [7]; Capriccio sopra un soggettof [6]; Natale MONFERRATO (c1615-1685): Lauda Jerusalemabcdef; Francesco PETROBELLI (?-1695): Laetatus sumacef [11]; Alessandro PICCININI (1566-c1638): Toccata IVe [5]; Giovanni Felice SANCES (c1600-1679): Ave maris stellaabcdef [8]; Orazio TARDITI (1602-1677): Domine ad adiuvandumabcdef [9]; Nisi Dominusabf [9]

Sources: [1] Archangelo Crotti, Il primo libro de concerti ecclesiastici, 1608; [2] Giovanni Paolo Cima, Concerti ecclesiastici, 1610; [3] Adriano Banchieri, Terzo libro di nuovi pensieri ecclesiastici, Op. 35, 1613; [4] Giacomo Finetti, Sacrae cantiones binis vocibus concinendae, 1613; [5] Alessandro Piccinini, Intavolatura di liuto, et di chitarrone, libro primo, 1623; Girolamo Frescobaldi, [6] Il primo libro di capricci, canzon francese, e recercari fatti sopra diversi soggetti et arie in partitura, 1626; [7] Canzoni da sonare, 1634; [8] Giovanni Felice Sances, Motetti a una, due, tre, e quattro voci, 1638; [9] Orazio Tarditi, Concerto, musiche varie da chiesa, motetti, salmi, hinni, op. 30, 1650; [10] Maurizio Cazzati, Le 4 antifone annuali della BVM poste in musica, Op. 42, 1667; [11] Francesco Petrobelli, Musiche sacre concertate con istromenti, Op. 8, 1670

Faye Newtona, soprano; Jamie Savanc, treble cornett, mute cornett; Richard Sweeneye, theorbo; Steven Devinef, harpsichord, organ
with: Clare Wilkinsonb, mezzo-soprano; Gawain Glentond, treble cornett, mute cornett

The vespers are one of the main liturgical events in the Western Christian church. This has resulted in a large repertoire which could be used by music directors of churches and chapels. Some composers wrote a more or less complete vesper liturgy, like Claudio Monteverdi. But they were the exception. Most wrote music which could be used according to what was needed. The fixed parts of the vesper liturgy are five psalms and the Magnificat. These are also best represented in the oeuvre of composers of religious music. Each of these pieces was preceded by an antiphon which was repeated after the psalm. In particular in Italy it was common practice to replace the repeated antiphon by a vocal composition or an instrumental piece.

Discs with music for vespers appear regularly. This disc is special, though, as its title indicates. Most psalms and Magnificat settings were written for pretty large ensembles of voices and instruments. These were only suitable for chapels and churches which had sufficient singers and players at their disposal. There were also smaller churches and chapels with only a couple of singers and players. Their needs were met by various composers some of whom are represented on this disc.

Most psalms are for one voice and basso continuo, usually with one or two melody instruments. The choice of instruments was often left to the interpreters, and even when instruments were mentioned these could be replaced by others. That is also the case in this recording. A number of psalms and the Magnificat are alternatim compositions, meaning that the verses are alternately performed as plainchant and with voice and instruments. The composers who are represented are all from 17th-century Italy. This means that their compositions have been written in the monodic style which was developed in the first decades of the century. Some pieces are from the middle of the century and show the aesthetic changes which took place at that time, resulting in stronger differentiation between arioso-like passages and recitativic episodes. This is the style we also meet in the operas of the time, for instance those by Francesco Cavalli.

One of the attractions of this disc is that some of the composers are hardly known. No less than six of the 14 pieces on this disc have been recorded for the first time. One of the earliest is Giacomo Finetti who worked first in Ascona and later in Venice. A true Venetian was Natale Monferrato, who worked at San Marco under Monteverdi, and later succeeded Cavalli as maestro di cappella. From that perspective it is rather surprising he is hardly known. One of the best-known composers on the programme is Adriano Banchieri, a Benedictine monk, who worked in various cities and was also an important theorist. Today he is mainly known for his organ works, and that makes the inclusion of two vocal items all the more interesting. Maurizio Cazzati was also an organist, who is especially known for his instrumental music. The vespers end with his lively setting of the Regina caeli for solo voice, two instruments and b.c.

This is one of the best items of the programme as far as the performance is concerned. It is justly sung in an extraverted manner, something I sorely missed in many other items. The fact that they were written for smaller venues doesn't mean they are less theatrical than larger-scale vesper music. I don't think that the true character of most compositions has been caught by The Gonzaga Band. Faye Newton has a nice voice, but is too restrained in her approach. There is too little dynamic gradation, and she is in particular too economical in her ornamentation. This repertoire is much more exciting than the performances suggest.

I have already indicated that the composers were mostly quite flexible as far as the scoring is concerned. Therefore there is no objection to playing a violin part at the cornett. I just wonder, though, whether it is likely that churches and chapels with moderate capabilities did have access to cornettists rather than violinists. The scoring of Laetatus sum by Francesco Petrobelli seems particularly questionable: it has ritornelli which were originally scored for five-part strings. These are arranged here for solo cornett and theorbo. But it seems to me that this scoring indicates that this piece was rather written for larger churches than the kind of spaces on which this programme concentrates. I also don't understand why in the Magnificat by Banchieri and Finetti's Laudate pueri the second voice has been replaced by a mute cornett, especially as with Clare Wilkinson a second singer was available. Her contribution is largely confined to the performance of the plainchant in the alternatim compositions.

The vocal pieces are interspersed by instrumental items, here used as substitutes for the antiphons. Interesting is especially Frescobaldi's Canzon terza per basso solo which is performed by theorbo and basso continuo. I haven't been able to find out whether this combination is prescribed by the composer.

This disc's main significance is that it sheds light on an aspect of liturgical practice in 17th-century Italy which isn't that well known. The inclusion of several pieces which haven't been recorded before also speaks in its favour. But the performances are not really captivating. The music is exciting enough; it is just that the performances are too restrained.

Johan van Veen ( 2011)

Relevant links:

The Gonzaga Band


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