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Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567 - 1643): "Sacred Music"

World Chamber Choir (Jordi Casals i Ibányez); Ensemble Concerto
Dir: Roberto Gini

rec: September 2004, Vigevano (I), Chiesa S. Carlo Borromeo
Dynamic - CDS 491/1-2 (2 CDs) (© 2005) (2.29'35)

anon: Toccata del 1. tuono; Tarquinio Merula (1594/95-1665): Canzona a 4 detta La Monteverde [1]; Claudio Merulo (1533-1604): Toccata VIII 1. toni; Claudio Monteverdi: Adoramus te Christe a 6 [5]; Cantate Domino ŕ doi Canti e Tenore [2]; Cantate Domino a 6 [5]; Christe adoramus te a 5 [5]; Confitebor a 4 [11]; Currite currite populi [10]; Domine ne in furore tuo a 6 [5]; Ecce sacrum paratum [10]; Ego dormio, Canto e Basso [9]; Ego flos campi [parte semplice & parte passaggiata (ed. R. Gini)] [8]; Et gratulemur hodie a 3 [14]; Exulta filia Sion [12]; Exultent caeli et gaudeant angeli [12]; Fuge fuge anima mea a 2 voci e un violino [4]; Gloria a 8 voci; Laudate Dominum, Basso solo [14]; Letanie della Beata Vergine a 6 [6]; O beatae viae a 2 voci [4]; O bone Jesu a 2 [7]; O quam pulchra es [10]; Salve O Regina a voce sola [8]; Salve Regina [10]; Sancta Maria succurre miseris a 2 [3]; Venite et videte [13]; Venite venite a 2 [8]; Giovanni TOGNI: Toccata avanti il Gloria

(Sources: [1] Merula, Il primo libro delle canzoni, 1615; Claudio MONTEVERDI, in: [2] Giovanni Battista Bonometti (ed), Parnassus Musicus Ferdinandaeus, 1615 [3] Giovanni Battista Ala (ed), Primo libro di concerti ecclesiastici, 1618 [4] Laurentio Calvi (ed), Symbolae diversorum musicorum, 1620 Giulio Cesare Bianchi (ed), [5]Il primo libro de motetto in lode d'Iddio nostro Signore, 1620; [6] Libro secondo de motetti in lode delle gloriosissima Vergina Maria, 1620 [7] Johannis Donfrid (ed), Promptuarii musici concentus exxlesiasticos, pars I, 1622 [8] Laurentio Calvi, Seconda raccolta de' sacri canti, 1624 [9] Francesco Sammaruco (ed), Sacri Affetti, 1625 [10] Leonardo Simonetti (ed), Ghirlanda sacra, libro I, 1625 [11] Giovanni Maria Sabino, Psalmi de vespere a quattro voci, 1627 [12] Laurentio Calvi (ed), Quarto raccolta de Sacri Canti, 1629 [13] Motetti a voce sola de diversi Eccellentissimi Autori, 1645 [14] Raccolta di motetti a 1,2,3 voci
[EC] Lavinia Bertotti, Antonella Gianese, Roberto Romagnino, soprano; Alessandro Carmignani, soprano, alto; Emanuele Bianchi, Francesco Giusti, alto; Mario Cecchetti, Vincenzo Di Donato, Makoto Sakurada, tenor; Salvo Vitale, Sergio Ladu, bass; Luca Giardini, violin; Massimo Percivaldi, violin, viola; Roberto Gini, violoncino, violone; Sabina Colonna Preti, violone, lirone; Elena Bianchi, bassoon; Maurizio Martelli, chitarrone; Loredana Gintoli, arpa doppia; Giovanni Togni, Roberto Gini, organ

Monteverdi is one of the most popular composers in the field of early music. But the interest in his music is rather unbalanced: his operas - in particular the first, Orfeo - are regularly performed and recorded, and his madrigals are also among his most frequently performed compositions. But a large part of Monteverdi's output consists of sacred music, and here is mostly the Vespro della Beata Vergine of 1610 which catches most of the attention, whereas other pieces from his sacred oeuvre are included into collections of sacred music by several composers. The largest part of Monteverdi's sacred works have been collected in the Selva morale e spirituale, which was published in 1641 and in a posthumous collection of 1650. But before those two collections a respectable number of religious works were printed as part of collections of sacred music by "diverse authors", as they were often called. This set of two discs presents all music from these collections, and they include even two works which are claimed never being recorded before. Considering the large number of recordings of Monteverdi's music that is difficult for me to check, but they certainly don't sound very familiar, and I have no reason to doubt that claim.

A number of pieces are pretty well-known, like Currite currite populi, Exulta filia Sion and Salve O Rgina. But others are far less known, for instance Domine ne in furore tuo, Ego dormio and En gratulemur hodie. The "new" pieces are a setting of Psalm 110 (111), Confitebor tibi, Domine, in 4 parts, published as part of the Nepolitan edition of motets by Giovan Maria Sabino of 1627, and an 8-part Gloria, which has come down to us as a single manuscript copy kept at the Oratorio dei Padri Filippini in Naples. For a long time the latter piece's authenticity was doubted, and only recently it has been accepted as a work by Monteverdi.

From this perspective this recording is valuable. Another aspect which is interesting is the attention paid to performance practice, in particular in regard to ornamentation. In particular revealing is the solo concerto Ego flos campi, which is performed twice: first as it has been written down, and then with passaggi, "edited by Roberto Gini", as the tracklist says. To what extent this version is indicative of how singers used to ornament is difficult to say. In the booklet Dinko Fabris makes clear the ornamentation could vary, even from one place to another. If one compares this particular piece with others performed here, there are indeed many differences in regard to the amount of ornamentation added. Sometimes a line is so strongly ornamented that the duration of the work is considerably extended.

This is another feature of this recording: without having compared them in detail I am sure that most pieces on these discs take much more time than in other recordings. In general the tempi are rather slow - often too slow in my opinion. The very first item on the first disc comes as quite a shock: it is really very slow, and here as elsewhere I feel this is undermining the character of the compositions. This is no opera, but Monteverdi was an full-blooded opera composer, and his religious music is often very theatrical and dramatic. And that is what I too often miss here. The slow tempi are also partly responsible for a lack of declamation in many pieces. Too often words with a strongly emotional character like "gementes", "flentes" or "langueo" are not given enough attention. There is an extensive use of ornamentation, but hardly any use of the messa di voce, which was a common tool to create dynamic differences. Sometimes long notes are held without any dynamic shading (for instance Ecce sacrum paratum), which I find surprising and disappointing. As a result these performances tend to be a little tedious sometimes, which is a shame as in general the singing is very good. Nearly all singers are Italian and all show a great understanding of the musical language of the time. The voices mostly blend well: only in the last item of the programme, the previously unrecorded Gloria a 8 I didn't hear a real ensemble: some voices tend to stand apart from the others.

The choir - which sings well - only participates in a small number of pieces, but to be honest I don't see the need to use a choir at all, and certainly not a choir of more than 30 singers, which sounds even bigger because of the relatively large reverberation of the church where the recording was made. I can't find any information as to what kind of organ was used, but in a number of works it sounds bigger than a chamber organ as is used mostly in this kind of music. Could it be the organ of the church where this recording took place?

It is not easy to give a final verdict on this recording. I have tried to sum up the pros and cons, but what is decisive is up to you. Those parts of this recording which really satisfied me were the Letanie della Beata Vergine, which is getting a performance of great expression and intensity, and the solo concerto Venite et videte, sung brilliantly by Antonella Gianese. And for those who have a more than average interest in Monteverdi the inclusion of two pieces which are recorded here for the first time will be reason enough to buy this set.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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