musica Dei donum
"1612 Italian Vespers"
Dir: Robert Hollingworth
rec: Jan 18 - 20, 2012, London, St John's, Upper Norwood
Decca - 478 3506 (© 2012) (78'40")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translation: E
Cover & track-list
[in order of appearance]
Lodovico Grossi DA VIADANA (c1560-1627):
Deus, in adiutorium meum intende, versicle & response ;
Antiphona I: Dum esset Rex in accubitu suo;
Lodovico Grossi DA VIADANA:
Dixit Dominus ;
Bartolomeo BARBARINO (c1568-c1617):
Exaudi, Deuscf ;
Antiphona II: Laeva eius sub capite meo;
Lodovico Grossi DA VIADANA:
Laudate, pueri ;
Andrea GABRIELI (1532/33-1585):
Benedictus Dominus Deus Sabaoth ;
Antiphona III: Nigra sum sed formosa;
Lodovico Grossi DA VIADANA:
Laetatus sum ;
O dulcissima Mariaadf ;
Antiphona IV: Iam hiems transiit;
Lodovico Grossi DA VIADANA:
Nisi Dominus ;
Giovanni Pierluigi DA PALESTRINA (1525/26-1594):
Quae est ista quae progeditur ;
Antiphona V: Speciosa facta es;
Lodovico Grossi DA VIADANA:
Lauda, Jerusalem ;
Toccata del 9. tonoe ;
Capitulum: Ab initio et ante saecula ordinata sum;
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643), plainchant, Francesco SORIANO (1548/49-1621):
Ave maris stella [5,6];
versiculum & responsorium: Dignare me laudare te;
Antiphona ad Magnificat: Beatam me dicent omnes generationes;
Giovanni GABRIELI (c1554/57-1612):
Magnificat ŕ20.ŕ28. Con il sicut locutus. In ecco (ed. H. Keyte);
Ab aeterno ordinata sum (SV 262)bdf ;
Collecta festi - Versiculum & responsorium - Dimissio;
In ecclesiis (C 78) (ed. H. Keyte) 
 Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Motettorum liber quartus ex Canticis canticorum, 1584;
Andrea & Giovanni Gabrieli,  Concerti di Andrea, e di Gio: Gabrieli ... continenti musica di chiesa, madrigali, & altro ... libro primo, 1587;
 Intonationi d’organo di Andrea Gabrieli et di Gio: suo nipote ... libro primo, 1593;
 Lodovico Grossi da Viadana, Concerti ecclesiastici, op.12, 1602;
 Claudio Monteverdi, Sanctissimae Virgini missa senis vocibus ad ecclesiarum choros ac vesperae pluribus decantandae, 1610;
 Francesco Soriano, Canoni et oblighi di 110 sorte, sopra l'Ave maris stella, 1610;
 Lodovico Grossi da Viadana, Salmi per cantare e concertare, op. 27, 1612;
 Bartolomeo Barbarino, Il secondo libro delli motetti ... da cantarsi a una voce sola, 1614;
 Giovanni Gabrieli, Symphoniae sacrae ... liber secundus, 1615;
 Claudio Monteverdi, Selva morale e spirituale, 1640-41
Anna Crookes, Julia Doyle, soprano;
Clare Wilkinson, mezzo-soprano (soloa);
David Gould, William Purefroy, Richard Wyn Roberts, Matthew Venner, alto;
Christopher Bowen, Mark Dobell, Andrew King, Nicholas Hurndall Smith, Matthew Long, Nicholas Mulroy, tenor;
Ben Davies, Eamonn Dougan, Thomas Guthrie, Greg Skidmore, baritone;
Christopher Adams, Charles Gibbs, Simon Grant, Rob Macdonald, Jonathan Sells (solob), bass
Catherine Martin, Clare Salaman, violin;
Bjarte Eike, violin, viola;
Rachel Byrt, Stefanie Heichelheim, viola;
Christopher Suckling, tenor violin;
Richard Boothby, Anna Holmes, bass violin
Gawain Glenton (soloc), Sam Goble, Helen Roberts, cornett;
Emily White, Sue Addison, Andrew Harwood-White, Tom Lees, Adrian France, sackbut;
Nicholas Perry, William Lyons, dulcian
David Miller, lute, theorbod;
Lynda Sayce, theorbo;
James Johnstone (soloe), Catherine Pierron, David Roblouf, organ
[plainchant] Simon Adams, Robert Asher, Steve Brosnan, Keith Bryant, Kieran Cooper, Mark Dourish, Stephen Garner, Robert Hollingworth, Stephen Pledger Jones, Hugh Keyte, Alistair Kirk, Graham Kirk, Edward Leach, Graham Roberts, Simon Trist, Alister Whitford
"The music is presented in the form of a liturgical re-creation. This is hardly a new concept and though it seems to have gone out of fashion in very recent times, it is an excellent way to retrieve the context of music from a particular period and culture (...)". Thus justifies Robert Hollingworth the concept of this disc which brings together music by two Italian masters from around 1600 who have fared quite differently in modern times. Giovanni Gabrieli is rightly considered one of the greatest composers of the late renaissance whereas Viadana's music is virtually unknown, although the composer has earned his rightful place in the history books.
I don't quite agree with Hollingworth that the concept of liturgical re-creation or reconstruction has fallen out of fashion recently. Several recordings of that kind have crossed my path over the last couple of years, such as the Messa Paradis del Amours by Stefano Nascimbeni and the Missa Macula non est in te by Louis-Nicolas Le Prince. And only in 2012 Paul McCreesh - one of the pioneers of liturgical reconstructions - presented a new version of one of his ground-breaking recordings in this department, with "A New Venetian Coronation 1595". Whatever the differences between these recordings, each of them proves in its own way the validity of Hollingworth's case in favour of this concept.
However, it is not hard to find arguments against it. Very seldom, if ever, we know exactly which music was performed at a specific occasion. Because of this every reconstruction has a strongly speculative character and its compilation is very time-consuming. A further argument against this concept is that it isn't always worked out convincingly. If the selection of music has to be speculative, its inclusion should be at least plausible, meaning that it is conceivable that the chosen repertoire has been performed at the occasion which is the subject of the reconstruction. Unfortunately not every performer has the discipline to omit music he likes to perform but which is unlikely to have been sung or played as part of a liturgical event. That is also the case here. More about that later. Let us first turn to the event which is musically documented here.
The subtitle of this recording specifies the event which is its subject: "Second Vespers of the feast of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary (in commemoration of the Battle of Lepanto, 1571)". It also marks two 400th anniversaries: the death of Giovanni Gabrieli and the publication of a collection of music for Vespers by Viadana, both in 1612. The vespers are located in "an unspecified North-Italian venue in the early 17th century".
The time of the year can be specified: the first Sunday of October. On 7 October 1571 the Holy League of Spanish, Roman and Venetian forces achieved a significant victory over the Ottoman navy at Lepanto. "For centuries to come, the participating countries would celebrate Lepanto as a unique and divinely ordained victory over the infidel, and everywhere outside Venice they would do this on a new feast that commemorated the Virgin's intercessory role in the engagement". The commemoration was merged with the feast which expressed the Rosary devotion which had grown in popularity during the 16th century. In Venice 7 October was also the feast day of the martyr St Justine of Padua; here the victory was attributed to her, alongside the Virgin and St Mark. "Justine was declared a major patron of the Republic (...). Her little parish church was refurbished, and a great state procession made to it annually until the fall of the Republic."
The core of this recording are the five Vespers psalms by Ludovico da Viadana which were printed in 1612. The booklet doesn't mention it, but I assume that the opening versicle and response is also from that source as it is scored for four choirs, like the psalms. Viadana was a productive and versatile composer who wrote in the stile antico but was also one of the first to add a basso continuo part to his compositions. In history books it is especially the Concerti ecclesiastici of 1602 which is mentioned as an example of the latter. The Vespers psalms are quite modern, and it is not without reason that Hugh Keyte, in his liner-notes, compares them to Monteverdi's settings from his Vespro della Beata Vergine. Hollingworth even states that Viadana's compositions are "more progressive" than Monteverdi's in their "clear division into solo and accompanying groups". According to Keyte Viadana's psalms have been recorded here for the first time. However, that is incorrect: at least four of the five psalms were included in a recording of the Vespri per l'Assunzione della Beata Vergine, with mostly music by Viadana, under the direction of Romano Vettori (Fonč, 1992).
Giovanni Gabrieli is represented with a Magnificat and - as an 'extraliturgical motet' - In ecclesiis. Both are performed here in a reconstruction by Hugh Keyte. He believes that the Magnificat ŕ20.ŕ28 is an arrangement of a setting which was probably scored for three choirs. Two of the seven partbooks of the arrangement have survived; these were copied for the court of Archduke Ferdinand of Inner Austria in Graz. As possible arrangers he mentions Giovanni Priuli and Giovanni Valentini who were at the service of the Archduke since 1614 and 1615 respectively. He states that it is likely that Gabrieli's original was written for a St Justine's Day Lepanto commemoration. In ecclesiis is one of Gabrieli's best-known works and has been frequently recorded. It is part of the Symphoniae sacrae of 1615. Here the choirs III and IV comprise a single voice and basso continuo. Keyte mentions that Gabrieli's contemporary Michael Praetorius thought that something was missing from the score. The editor probably had only a reduced version at his disposal. "Once III and IV are restored to something like their original form (five-part ensembles of two solo voices plus instruments) intractable problems of balance disappear, great tracts of integral imitation are recovered, and the full splendour of this late masterwork is revealed".
I already indicated that this reconstruction includes some implausible choices of repertoire. That certainly goes for those verses of Ave maris stella which are performed in settings by Francesco Soriano. They are from a collection of canons and oblighi. "An obligo is a piece in which the composer has imposed upon himself some technical requirement. All Soriani's oblighi are built around the Ave, Maris plainchant melody in long notes in the tenor register, against which the remaining parts fulfil a great range of contrapuntal obligations. (...) These pieces were really for the private delectation of scholars or domestic music-makers, but they have a piquant appeal when deployed - perhaps for the first time ever - in this liturgical context" (Hugh Keyte in the liner-notes). The attraction of these settings is understandable, and I very much would like to hear more from this collection. However, their inclusion undermines Hollingworth's case for a liturgical reconstruction - to present music in its context. Here the settings by Soriano are in fact performed out of their historical context, as part of a kind of occasion for which they were not conceived. It is telling that the collection from which these settings are taken is ranked among the secular works in Soriano's work-list in New Grove.
I also have my doubts about the seven-choir arrangement of Gabrieli's Magnificat. If Keyte is right that the original was written for a St Justine's Day Lepanto commemoration, then what exactly is the relevance for the present reconstruction? We are in "an unspecified North-Italian venue in the early 17th century", remember? Or are we in Venice after all? Only there the commemoration of Lepanto was connected to St Justine's Day. And if the original was written for this commemoration, what about the seven-choir arrangement? He suggests that it could have been made for one of the "lavish afternoon concerts mounted on its patronal festival each year by one of the most prestigious of the Venetian charitable confraternities, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. Priuli was sometimes involved in these; Gabrieli was in overall charge from at least 1597 until his death in 1612; and in 1604 and 1608 we know that seven organs were deployed." Venice again! This inconsistency is the consequence of not determining a specific place where the reconstructed liturgy could have been performed. On balance it seems that the reconstruction of a version for three choirs would have been more appropriate. However, in cases such as this one could question whether such a reconstruction makes sense at all. It can be useful to reconstruct one or two missing parts from a polyphonic piece. In this case so little of the original has survived that this reconstruction is in fact a kind of composition by Keyte on the basis of material from Gabrieli's pen.
The scoring of large-scale pieces is mostly left to the performers. Therefore there is no objection against the scoring of the third and fourth choir in Viadana's Vespers psalms with instruments. Some scorings raise questions, though. The substitution of the repeated antiphons by a motet or an instrumental piece was common practice. But was it also common to perform a solo motet instrumentally, as here Barbarino's motet Exaudi, Deus which is played on the cornett? The inclusion of a motet by Palestrina can be justified by the continuing popularity of Palestrina's oeuvre in the early 17th century. But it seems rather unlikely that in such a liturgical event it would have been performed without the participation of instruments as is the case here.
At the rear inlay Hollingworth is quoted as saying: "It is thrilling to bring Gabrieli's Magnificat back to life, to present 'In ecclesiis' in new clothes, and to introduce Viadana: how could this superb music not already be well-known?" There is every reason to welcome the performance of music by Viadana; the Vespers psalms are of excellent quality and should be regularly performed. They raise the interest in other parts of his oeuvre. Unfortunately I can't be very enthusiastic about the performances. Instrumentally everything is alright and the combination of voices and instruments makes a strong impression. It is the solo singing which is largely unsatisfying. Clare Wilkinson and Jonathan Sells deliver fine performances of Viadana's O dulcissima Maria and Monteverdi's Ab aeterno ordinata sum respectively. However, in the solo episodes of Viadana's psalms the incessant and often pretty wide vibrato of some singers spoiled my enjoyment. It is ugly and historically untenable.
Despite my critical assessment of the selection of music and my questioning of the relevance of some reconstructions it is this stylistic inconsistency which I find most disappointing.
N.B. Thanks to Jim Humphreys who reminded me of the existence of the Fonč disc.
Johan van Veen (© 2014)