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Orazio BENEVOLI (1605 - 1672): Missa Tu es Petrus

I Fagiolini; The City Musick
Dir: Robert Hollingworth

rec: June 28 - July 1, 2023, London, St Augustine's Church, Kilburn
Coro - COR16201 (© 2023) (58'43")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Orazio BENEVOLI: Missa Tu es Petrus a 40; Bonifazio GRAZIANI (1604/05-1664): Ad mensam dulcissimi a 3; Domine, ne in furore tuo a 3; Justus ut palma a 6; Venite gentes a 5; Giovanni Pierluigi DA PALESTRINA (1525/26-1594): Tu es Petrus a 6

Sources: Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Motettorum liber secundus, 1572; Orazio Graziani, Motetti, op. 1, 1650

[IF] Julia Doyle, Rebecca Lea, soprano; Martha McLorinan, Luthien Brackett, mezzo-soprano; Nicolas Mulroy, Christopher Bowen, Thomas Herford, Matthew Long, tenorino; Sam Gilliatt, Eoghan Desmond, Stuart O'Hara, Greg Skidmore, baritone; Frederick Long, Ben Rowarth, David Valsamidis, Charles Gibbs, bass; Aileen Henry, harp; Eligio Quinteiro, chitarrone; Catherine Pierron, David Roblou, organ
[TCM] Rebecca Austen-Brown, recorder; Richard Thomas, cornett; Martyn Sanderson, sackbut Naomi Burrell, violin; Christopher Suckling, bass violin; William Lyons, dulcian

If the Missa Tu es Petrus appears on the programme of a concert or on disc, most music lovers immediately think of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. His mass with this title is one of his best-known works and often performed and recorded, also because the text of his motet on which the mass is based, plays a central role in Catholic doctrine. The Pope pretends that he is the successor of Peter, one of Christ's disciples, and that Christ's assurance that he would build his church on Peter - whose name means 'rock' - has been passed on to him. This text was all the more important because the Reformation rejected this papal pretension.

The present disc does not include Palestrina's mass but rather one by Orazio Benevoli, a representative of what is called the 'Colossal Baroque' in Rome in the 17th century. Benevoli was born and died in Rome; he was just 18 years of age when he was appointed maestro di cappella of S Maria in Trastevere. In 1630 he moved to San Spirito in Sassia, where he took a similar position as successor to Gregorio Allegri. From 1638 to 1644 he acted as maestro di cappella of S Luigi dei Francesi. From 1644 to 1646 he was in Vienna, and in 1646 he became maestro di cappella of Cappella Giulia at S Pietro, as successor to Virgilio Mazzocchi, one of Rome's main composers of sacred music. Despite his prominent position in Rome very few of Benevoli's compositions were published in his lifetime. He composed many works in polychoral style.

This mass may be from the pen of Benevoli, but Palestrina is never far away. Benevoli based his mass on the same motet by Palestrina that the latter had used for his mass. However, Benevoli uses it in different ways. Sometimes the opening motif, which is very recognizable, makes itself heard very clearly, for instance at the start of the first Kyrie. Benevoli also makes use of material from other parts of the motet, such as the bass in the second Kyrie. Another feature is the frequent shift between duple and triple time, which is absent in Palestrina's motet.

Obviously, the most striking characteristic of this mass is the number of voices: the 16 parts are divided into four choirs. Denis Morrier, in his liner-notes to Hervé Niquet's recording of Benevoli's Missa Si Deus pro nobis (Alpha, 2018), includes some interesting information about the way such music was performed. "André Maugars, in his Réponse faite à un curieux sur le sentiment de la musique en Italie, written in Rome on 1 October 1639, describes the way the musicians were arranged in the church of La Minerva on the feast of St Dominic. There were ten cori: two in the fixed galleries situated on either side of the choir of the church, and eight others symmetrically distributed along the nave, on palchi (platforms) erected for the occasion. Each additional gallery was equipped with a positive organ. Maugars also mentions other instruments, accompanying the voices or performing instrumental pieces." Robert Hollingworth, in his liner-notes to the present disc, mentions that he considered the doubling of the choirs, but for financial and musical reasons decided against it. The musical reason is mainly the clarity of a smaller line-up. It has to be said, though, that this clarity is compromised by the audible vibrato in several of the voices.

The booklet goes into detail about the way Benevoli has set the text. Text expression may not have been the main concern of composers who wrote such large-scale works; they rather aimed at creating a maximum splendour, not only for purely musical reasons, but mainly as an expression of the supremacy of the Church and its doctrines. That does not mean that this mass is devoid of passages in which the text is depicted. The liner-notes give several striking examples. At the same time, the work includes some episodes which are technically highly demanding, for instance in the field of breath control.

The sections of the mass are separated by motets from the pen of Bonifazio Graziani. This does not mean that an attempt was made to put the mass into a liturgical context, as the motets are intended for different occasions. The inclusion of these motets makes sense from a historical perspective, as the two composers were contemporaries and both were active in Rome.

San Marino is the town where Graziani grew up. It should not be confused with the republic of San Marino, an enclave near the Adriatic coast. This San Marino is near Rome and now part of the province of Rome. It was also the town where Giacomo Carissimi was born. As they were almost exact contemporaries they must have known each other, probably from early on, but certainly when they both worked in Rome. Graziani served as a priest in Marino and in nearby Frascati. In 1646 he moved to Rome where he was appointed maestro di cappella at Il Gesù and the Seminario Romano. Under his guidance the choir of Il Gesù grew considerably and it seems likely that he composed his large-scale vocal works for this choir. In the 1650s his compositions started to be published. In 1658 he was appointed cappellano at the Jesuit novitiate house of S Andrea and he was also active in the Congregazione dei Musici di S Cecilia.

The name of Carissimi has been mentioned; that is not only relevant for historical reasons, but also because of a similarity in style. Graziani composed some oratorios, which are not unlike those of Carissimi, and the motets performed here show the same stylistic affinity. They are scored for solo voices and basso continuo, and the declamatory style has its roots in the ideals that were promoted by Giulio Caccini. Domine ne in furore tuo is a setting of verses from Psalm 6, the first penitential psalm, sung during Lent. It is scored for three voices: two sopranos and bass. It does not surprise to find descending lines and chromaticism here. Venite gentes, scored for five voices, is intended for the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, as the opening line makes crystal clear: "Come, o people, hasten all. If anyone is thirsty, see the source of living water". The same goes for Ad mensam dulcissimi, scored for two sopranos and tenor: "The table of your sweetest banquet, pious Lord Jesus, I (...) fear to approach". The piece opens with a section in recitativic style. Justus ut palma is for six voices, and may have been written for the feast day of one of the Jesuit founders, Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier. The text includes verses from Psalm 92: "The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree, he shall grow in the house of the Lord". The piece consists of two sections, each of which ends with an "Alleluia".

The soloists in these motets do a good job in that they master the declamatory art of singing that is required here. Unfortunately, they are not free of vibrato again. These performances make very clear that Graziani is a composer who deserves more attention. Some of his compositions were recorded by the Consortium Carissimi (Naxos, 2015 and 2016), but I did not find the performances very convincing. The interpretations on this disc are more satisfying. It is to be hoped that in the near future some discs will entirely be devoted to Graziani's oeuvre.

To sum up, Benevoli (sometimes called Benevolo) is a fine representative of Roman polychorality in the 17th century. The Missa Tu es Petrus is a successful mixture of the stile antico à la Palestrina and stylistic elements of the composer's own time. The performances are not entirely satisfying, but good enough to make this a disc which is worth being investigated.

Johan van Veen (© 2024)

Relevant links:

I Fagiolini
The City Musick

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