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Francesco FOGGIA (1604 - 1688): Psalmodia Vespertina

Dir: Bernhard Pfammatter

rec: Feb 1 & 3, 2002 (live), Bern, Nydeggkirche
Divox - CDX-70207 (© 2003) (68'03")

Francesco FOGGIA: Beati omnes a 5 [1]; Confitebor tibi Domine a 5 [1]; De valle lacrimarum a voce sola; Dixit Dominus a 5 [1]; Gaudent in caelis a 6; Laudate Dominum a 5 [1]; Laudate pueri a 5 [1]; Magnificat a 5 [1]; Salve Regina a 5 [1]; Domenico MASSENZIO (?-1650): Iste confessor a 5; Tomás Luis DE VICTORIA (1548-1611): Domine, ad adiuvandum a 4

Source: [1] Francesco Foggia, Psalmodia Vespertina, 1667

Maria C. Schmid, Ulrike Hofbauer, soprano; Francesco Ghelardini, alto; Cornel Frey, alto, tenor; Markus Schikora, tenor; Bernhard Pfammatter, baritone; Richard Ackermann, bass; Alexandra Iten, cello; Stephan Schürch, viola da gamba, violone; Jonathan Rubin, theorbo; Jörg Ulrich Busch, organ

Although almost forgotten in modern times, and perhaps described as a 'minor master' in encyclopedias, Foggia was a famous composer in his own time. Being born in Rome in 1604 he worked at the courts of Munich and Vienna respectively at the first stage of his career. After returning to Italy he at first held posts at some minor churches in Rome before moving to more important churches like the Santa Maria in Trastavere and San Giovanni in Laterano. Here he spent the largest part of his career, from 1636 to 1661. His oeuvre reflects the shifts in musical style from the stile antico of Palestrina through the era of monody to the style of Cavalli and Carissimi, when the exclusive concentration on the text made way for a more melodious style of composing.

Most of Foggia's music on this disc is taken from the collection Psalmodia Vespertina, which was published in 1667. "We have compiled five psalms and the Magnificat as well as the closing antiphon 'Salve Regina' from the Psalmodia Vespertina and supplemented them with Gregorian chorales to form a Vespers office of the type that was performed to celebrate the feast day of a canonized Confessor Pope", the ensemble's director Bernhard Pfammatter writes in his liner-notes. He states that it is open for debate to what extent churches in Rome had the freedom to replace antiphons with music on para-liturgical texts. Therefore he has done so with utmost caution: only in the case of the Magnificat the repeat of the antiphon is replaced by Foggia's motet De valle lacrimarum - a decision which makes sense. Far less understandable is the decision to omit the repeat of all other antiphons, "out of respect for the length of the recording". I find this totally unconvincing: with a duration of 68 minutes a repeat of the antiphons would perhaps take about 6 or 7 minutes, which doesn't cause any technical problems at all, in particular if the about one minute of applause at the end had been cut, or if the plainchant had been sung at a more appropriate - faster - tempo.

The music by Foggia is well worth listening to. Considering the way composers of that time set texts to music it is a serious omission that the booklet doesn't contain the lyrics, even though they might be easy to find in the booklets of other recordings with vesper music. Italian composers of the 17th century didn't miss opportunities to express specific elements of the texts, like "conquassabit capita" (he shall wound the heads) in Dixit Dominus, "potentes" (the mighty) in the Magnificat and words like "clamamus" (we cry), "suspiramus gementes et flentes" (we sigh, mourning and weeping) in the Salve Regina. And in Laudate pueri the word "quis" (who?) is followed by an eloquent pause before ending the question "(who) is like unto the Lord our God". In some pieces Foggia makes use of the antiphonal principle by splitting the ensemble into a high and a low section (Laudate Dominum, Gaudent in caelis).

The versiculum Domine, ad adiuvandum by De Victoria - which I couldn't find in the work-list in New Grove by the way - is performed as if it was written in Foggia's own time, and that is certainly right. I wonder, though, whether the plainchant shouldn't be performed the same way. I personally don't believe that performers in those days treated plainchant and polyphony differently. The hymn Iste confessor by Massenzio more reflects the style of Monteverdi's time, for instance in the passages for two voices which are very declamatory. It strongly contrasts with Foggia's solo motet De valle lacrimarum, which contains a sequence of recitative and aria-like passages.

On the whole this music is receiving a good performance here, with the exception of the plainchant which is too slow and too solemn. This ensemble from Switserland consists of beautiful voices, which have the flexibility this repertoire needs, and which blend well. The singers are aptly supported by the instrumentalists. The solo motet is well sung by Maria Schmid, although the diction and intonation leaves something to be desired now and then. But considering this is a live recording one can only admire the effort of the ensemble and its members. And they should be complimented with the choice of repertoire, which has been unjustly neglected.

Johan van Veen (© 2006)

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