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Francesco CAVALLI (1602 - 1676): "5 Magnificat and other sacred works"

Yetzabel Arias Fernandez, Florin Cezar Ouatu, soprano; Andrea Arrivabene, Paolo Costa, Igor Denti, alto; Mario Cecchetti, Gianluca Ferrarini, tenor; Matteo Bellotto, Gianluca Buratto, bass
Coro Claudio Monteverdi di Crema; Ensemble La Pifarescha; Pietro Pasquini, organ
Dir: Bruno Gini

rec: Sept 30 - Oct 4, 2008, Abbadia Cerreto, Chiesa di San Pietro
Dynamic - CDS 623 (© 2009) (71'48")

Canzona a 10 [2]; Canzona a 12 [2]; Dixit Dominus a 8 voci [2]; Laetatus sum a 3 voci [2]; Magnificat a 6 voci [1]; Magnificat a 8 voci [2]; Vespero della Beata Vergine: Magnificat a 8 voci [3]; Vespro della Domeniche: Magnificat a 8 voci [3]; Vespro delli Cinque Laudate: Magnificat a 8 voci [3]

Sources: [1] Claudio Monteverdi, Messa a 4 voci, Salmi e Litanie della B.V., 1650; Francesco Cavalli, [2] Musiche Sacre, 1656; [3] Vesperi a 8 voci, 1675

[Pifarescha] Josuč Melendez, Gawain Glenton, cornett; Christina Hess, Ermes Giussani, Mauro Morini, Valerio Mazzucconi, Fabio Costa, David Yacus, sackbut; Luca Giardini, Stefano Rossi, violin; Krihsna Nagaraja, viola da brazzo; Rodney Prada, viola da gamba; Cristiano Contadin, violone

In books on music history Francesco Cavalli has been given much attention as the successor of Claudio Monteverdi as the main composer of operas in Venice in the 17th century. But it is only fairly recently that his operas have started to be performed on a more regular basis. His religious music still awaits to be rediscovered, though. Cavalli began his career in his boyhood as a singer in San Marco (from 1616), and remained there all his life, although he also took other positions now and then. In 1639 he was appointed second organist at San Marco. When Monteverdi died it was Francesco Rovetta, about five years his senior, who was appointed as his successor rather than Cavalli.

It is not known whether Cavalli ever formally was a pupil of Monteverdi, but his early compositions are showing a strong influence of the maestro di cappella of San Marco. It was also Cavalli who was responsible for the publication of the last collection of sacred music by Monteverdi in 1650, to which he added a setting of his own of the Magnificat. This Magnificat a 6 is very close to the style of Monteverdi. It is divided into 16 sections, which are assigned to tutti and soli, with two instrumental parts and basso continuo. The solo episodes mostly have the texture of a trio, for instance two voices with bc, or three voices with the lowest doubling the continuo line. The solo episodes are written in concertato style, and these parts contain elaborate ornamentation as in Monteverdi's sacred music.

The first publication of sacred music by Cavalli dates from 1656 and represents the second stage in his career as a composer of religious music. It comprises 28 pieces, ranging from compositions in the style of the cori spezzati to pieces for solo voice and bc. Six of the pieces are instrumental: sonatas and canzonas in 3 to 12 parts. Two of these are played here in addition to three vocal pieces, all music for Vespers. The Magnificat a 8 is written in the Venetian polychoral style in which tutti sections are alternated by passages for one or more solo voices. These solo episodes are less elaborated and show a kind of simplification which reflects the stylistic developments in Italy in the mid-17th century. The instruments have independent parts of a concertato character, much like the solo voices.

From the same collection comes the piece which closes this disc, the Dixit Dominus a , which follows largely the same structure: an antiphonal use of the two choirs, alternating tutti and soli episodes and independent instrumental parts. Laetatus sum is quite different: it is written for three solo voices - alto, tenor and bass -, strings and basso continuo. The three voices often sing together, but in the second half each of them in turn sings a solo episode. It is a sacred concerto as was common in Italy at this time. The scoring for solo voices gives more opportunities for text expression.

The last collection of sacred music by Cavalli was printed in 1675, and here he in a way returns to the past. It contains three complete settings of music for Vespers. The Magnificats from all three are recorded here. Despite their differences they have the same scoring: eight voices in two choirs and basso continuo. In this recording the instruments play colla parte. In some sections the number of voices is reduced, and these are sung by soloists. These episodes are rather short, and there are no virtuosic embellishments. In fact it is the stile antico which dominates the proceedings.

One may be inclined to think that a disc with no less than five settings of the same text is bound to be monotonous, but that is not the case. Firstly, as I have mentioned, the settings date from three different stages in Cavalli's career which all have their own features. Secondly, whatever the differences in style may be, all pieces are of fine quality and bear witness to Cavalli's skills as a composer of religious music. But the performances also play a part in the compelling nature of this recording. It has to be said that the perfomance is not flawless, because not all participants are of the highest quality. And a choir of almost 40 singers is a bit too large for this repertoire. As a result the tutti are not as transparent as one would like. That said, there is much to enjoy here. The soloists may vary in quality, they are all at least competent, and none of them is stylistically out of touch with the whole. The playing of the instrumentalists is very good, both in the vocal pieces and in the two Canzonas.

The liner-notes are not very intelligible, but that could well be due to the English and German translations I have read. The booklet contains a list of all musicians taking part in the recording. The lyrics are also included, although without an English translation. But as these are quite well-known and also can be found easily on the internet, that isn't much of a problem.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Coro Claudio Monteverdi
La Pifarescha

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