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"The myth of Venice - 16th-century music for cornetto & keyboards"

Gawain Glenton, cornetta; Silas Wollston, virginalb, organc

rec: April 13 - 15, 2021, London, St Saviour's Church, Hampstead
Delphian Records - DCD34261 ( 2021) (61'50")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: El todeschoab; Giovanni BASSANO (c1558-1617): Caro dolce ben mio (Andrea Gabrieli)ab; Introduxit me rex (Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina)ac; Vincenzo BELLAVERE (c1540-1587): Toccata per organoc; Girolamo DALLA CASA (?-1601): Jouissance vous donneray (Adrian Willaert)ac; Girolamo DIRUTA (c1554-after 1610): Ricercar a 4ac; Toccata di salto cativo del VI tuonob; Andrea GABRIELI (1533-1585): Pass'e mezzo anticob; Ricercar del XII tuonoac; Claude GERVAISE (1525-1583): Pavane 'La venissiene'ab; Giacomo GORZANIS (c1520-after 1575): Il todeschinoab; Padoana del todeschinoab; Gioseffo GUAMI (1542-1611): La brillantinaac; Toccata del II tuonoc; Claudio MERULO (1533-1604): Toccata 8c; Annibale PADOVANO (1527-1575): Ricercar del VI tuonoc; Girolamo PARABOSCO (c1524-1577): Ricercar 14 'Da pacem Domine'ac; Giulio SEGNI DA MODENA (1498-1561): Ricercar 5ac; Ricercar 13ac; Adrian WILLAERT (c1490-1562): A la fontaine (diminutions: Gawain Glenton, after Silvestro GANASSI, 1492-1565)ac

If you purchase this disc - which I strongly recommend - it is advisable to start with reading the liner-notes. Gawain Glenton gives a lively description of the music scene in Venice, and puts its into its historic and social context. The city was a true centre of arts and music, and the programme gives an excellent impression of the variety of what was written and composed there. It is a kind of who is who of musical Venice in the 16th century.

Obviously St Mark's was the centre of musical activities as far as sacred music was concerned. The posts of organist - there were two of them - were among the most sought-after in Italy, and only the most brilliant players were good enough. Claudio Merulo and Andrea Gabrieli, who for some time occupied those positions, were indeed top of the bill. Their reputation fitted the ambition of the proud city of Venice, which aimed to show its power and splendour in the music in St Mark's, where the Doges attended mass.

However, there were plenty other opportunities for performing musicians and composers. There were many churches and chapels and all sorts of institutions where music was performed on a regular basis or at special occasions. Occasions of church and state as well as events in the personal lives of members of the higher echelons of society were not complete without music. This explains why there is such a wide variety of repertoire by Venetian composers, from organ pieces to be played during mass in St Mark's to madrigals and theatrical works. And thanks to the fact that Venice was also a centre of music printing, many pieces have been preserved.

The present disc focuses on the role of two of the main instruments at the time. The cornett was one of the most revered instruments across Europe in the 16th century, because it was considered the instrument that was, more than any other, able to imitate the human voice. Cornetts played a role in performances of vocal music, either supporting the voices (playing colla voce) or substituting for one or several voices. However, the cornett was also used as a solo instrument, for instance in the diminutions which were so popular at the time. Instrumental virtuosos liked to take a vocal piece - a motet, a madrigal or a chanson - and add ornaments to one or several of its parts, and to break up long notes into small ones. Such diminutions were usually improvised, but that art had to be learned, and this explains the publication of treatises, such as those by Girolamo Dalla Casa. They included examples of diminutions, and Adrian Willaert's Jouissance vous donneray is one of them.

The keyboard - either the organ or strung keyboards, such as harpsichord and virginal - also played a major role in music life. Obviously the organ was first and foremost an instrument played in church. Its role was not confined to sacred music, though. It was also used in secular music, and the present disc includes several examples of pieces that were not intended for - and certainly not played in - the church. On the other hand, the harpsichord and the virginal were frequently used in both instrumental music and in secular vocal music, for instance as accompaniment of performances of madrigals.

The programme offers a wide variety of genres. The ricercar and the toccata represent two of the main genres of keyboard music. Often such pieces could also be played by an instrumental ensemble or on organ with the participation of a single instrument. Here Girolamo Parabosco's Ricercar 14 'Da pacem Domine' is an example of an organ piece, in which the upper part is played at the cornett. In this case it is not so much a solo instrument, but rather acts as the register of the organ. This underlines the importance of using an organ in the Italian style, with its typical colour palette.

One of the nice aspects of this disc is also that it includes music from the first half of the 16th century. Most recordings of Venetian music focus on what was written at the end of the century, and earlier music is too often overlooked. That is not the case here, and this explains why the programme includes pieces by composers who are not that well known, such as the above-mentioned Parabosco, but also Segni da Modena, Padovano, Bellavere and Gorzanis.

The music written and performed in Venice in the renaissance and early baroque periods exerts a strong attraction on performers and audiences alike. That is easy to understand when one listens to this disc. Even composers who are relatively little known today, have written music that is a treat for the ears. The programme performed by Gawain Glenton and Silas Wollston is a fine demonstration of the brilliance of Venetian music. The playing is also nothing less than brilliant. One won't often hear such excellent cornett playing as here from Glenton. He produces a beautiful tone, without any hint of stress, and the intonation is immaculate. The diminutions are given excellent performances; those on the chanson by Willaert mentioned above are a perfect example. Silas Wollston uses the appropriate (Italian-style) instruments to explore the typical features of the keyboard repertoire. The Toccata 8 by Merulo is an impressive specimen both of Merulo's qualities as a composer of keyboard music and of Wollston's command of the repertoire and the organ.

If you want to know whether you are going to like this disc, select the last track. Gioseffo Guami's La brillantina is a brilliant piece, and brilliantly played. It is the best possible way to bring this exciting disc to a close. It is a joy to listen to and deserves a special recommendation.

Johan van Veen ( 2022)

Relevant links:

Gawain Glenton
Silas Wollston

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