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Giacomo Antonio PERTI (1661 - 1756): Messa a 12

Elena Bertuzzibc, Francesca Cassinarib, Sonia Tediab, soprano; Jacopo Facchinibc, Francesco Giustib, Raphal Masb, alto; Alberto Allegrezzab, Michele Concatob, Baltasar Zigab, tenor; Carlo Bonarellib, Gabriele Lombardib, Abramo Rosalenb, bass
Color Temporisabc, Collegium Musicum Almae Matrisab, Choirabc and Orchestra of the Cappella Musicale di S. Petronio
Dir: Michele Vannelli

rec: Oct 2, 2006, Bologna, Basilica di S. Petronio
Dynamic - CDS 707 ( 2011) (47'28")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/I; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

Giovanni Paolo COLONNA (1637-1695): Laudate Dominum a 3 cori di vocia; Giacomo Antonio PERTI: Messa 12 con stromentib; Plaudite mortales, motetto a 8 concertato con tromba e violinic; Sinfonia avanti la Serenata

Every music lover knows about the polychoral tradition in Venice, of which Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli are the most renowned representatives. There were other cities in Italy with their own tradition of polychoral writing, though. One of them was Rome, another one Bologna. The huge basilica San Petronio provided the maestri di cappella ample opportunities to perform music for three or four groups of singers and instrumentalists. Pieces of such texture have created the term "colossal baroque". This should be taken with a grain of salt, though, as there are not that many pieces of which we can be absolutely sure that they were performed by large numbers of singers and instrumentalists.

This disc is devoted to two composers from Bologna. The disc opens with Laudate Dominum by Giovanni Paolo Colonna. He was born in Bologna and studied some time in Rome, where Carissimi and Benevoli were among his teachers. After his return he acted as organist in San Petronio and in 1662 he was appointed maestro di cappella, a post he retained until his death. It was in Rome that he became acquainted with the polychoral style, and this was to become a major part in his compositional oeuvre. Another important feature of his style was the increasing independence of the instrumental parts.

These two features are also part of the oeuvre of Giacomo Antonio Perti. He was also from Bologna and studied with Petronio Franceschini, who played the cello in San Petronio. When Colonna died he succeeded him as maestro di cappella. In 1681 he was admitted as composer to the Accademia Filarmonica. That is especially noteworthy in regard to this disc. The main work is the Messa 12 which was performed at San Giovanni in Monte on 26 June 1687. The occasion was the feast of St Anthony, who was the patron saint of the Accademia Filarmonica. During Lent the members of the Accademia elected their Principe who acted as president and artistic director. It was also his duty to organise the celebrations for the feast of St Anthony, which consisted of Mass and Vespers. He could choose the composers who should write the music for the liturgy, and usually composed the Kyrie and Gloria himself. In 1687 Perti was chosen Principe for the first time. Among the composers whom he chose to contribute to the liturgical music were Giovanni Bononcini, Giovanni Battista Vitali and Domenico Gabrielli. Perti himself composed the Messa 12, consisting of Kyrie and Gloria. It was written for 12 voices divided over three choirs. In his liner-notes Michele Vannelli mentions 80 performers, which justifies to rank this work into the category of 'colossal baroque'.

The Mass begins with a Sinfonia, which is interestingly written according to the concerto grosso principle. The Kyrie is in three sections: Kyrie I and II are for 12 voices, the Christe for six solo voices, three sopranos and three basses. It should be noted, though, that the episodes for 12 voices include passages for reduced forces, which are performed here by the soloists. The Gloria is divided into 11 sections, alternately for 12 voices or for two to nine solo voices. The 'Quoniam tu solus Sanctus' is for four voices, but as these come from the three choirs all twelve solists are involved. Perti had a strong preference for counterpoint, and his skills come impressively to the fore in the last section, 'Cum Sancto Spiritu', which is a double fugue.

The instrumental scoring of the Mass is for strings and bc, whereas the other works on this disc include parts for two trumpets. That is explainable from the long tradition of trumpet playing which goes back to the early renaissance. It was in Bologna that the Concerto Palatino was founded in the 16th century. In the second half of the 17th century music for trumpet and strings was written in Bologna which contributed to the development of the solo concerto. In the Sinfonia avanti la Serenata the second trumpet acts as echo of the first. Plaudite mortales is a motet for eight voices: two solo voices, two choirs and an ensemble of two trumpets, strings and bc. It belongs to the category of the motetto grosso which was common to Bologna. It has the structure of chorus - aria - aria - chorus dacapo. The two solo sections, for soprano and alto respectively, are rather short. This motet dates from 1678 and if it was performed in San Petronio it is unlikely the number of performers will have been very large. When Perti became maestro di cappella there was no fixed ensemble in the San Petronio. This situation changed during his term of office (which ended with his death), and in 1723 he had 36 musicians at his disposal. Only for special occasions could the number of musicians be increased. This situation makes it unlikely that Colonna's motet, whose scoring is indicated as a 3 cori di voci and dates from 1672, will have been performed with such large forces as Perti's Mass in 1687.

The fact that this is the recording of a live performance in 2006 explains a lack of synchronization between the choirs and the orchestra now and then, probably also due to the problematic acoustical circumstances (the San Petronio is renowned for its large reverberation). The performances are admirable, though; the soloists have fine voices and they sing their solos very well. This disc is an interesting contribution to our knowledge of music practice in Bologna and in particular San Petronio. Michele Vannelli is maestro di cappella of the basilica since 2006, and successor of Sergio Vartolo, who in his time has paid much attention to the music of Perti. It is good to note that his work is continued by his successor, and that will hopefully result in further recordings of music by Perti and other masters from Bologna.

This is a most intriguing disc which I strongly recommend. Don't be put off by the short playing time, as regrettable as it is. Michele Vannelli has written the informative liner-notes.

Johan van Veen ( 2012)

Relevant links:

Collegium Musicum Almae Matris
San Petronio, Bologna


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