musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Antonio NOLA (1642 - 1713?): "Tristes erant Apostoli - Sacred works"

Cappella Neapolitana
Dir: Antonio Florio

rec: April 17 & 19, 2019 (live), Cracow, ICE Krakow Congress Centre (Krzysztof Penderecki Hall)
Dynamic - CDS7853 (© 2020) (74'04")
Liner-notes: E/I; lyrics - no translations
Cover, track-list & booklet

Antonio NOLA: Ecce nunc benedicite I a 5 voci con violini; Ecce nunc Benedicite II a 5 voci si placet con violini e basso continuo; Homo et Angelo dialogo a 2 voci, soprano e tenore, con violini; Sacramento Laudes a voce sola con violini; Stabat mater a 4 voci con violini si placet; Tristes erant Apostoli in tempore Paschali a 5 voci con ripieni; Pietro MARCHITELLI (1643-1729): Sonata 11 in a minor

Leslie Visco, Anna Zawisza, soprano; Marta Fumagalli, contralto; Alessio Tosi, tenor; Giuseppe Naviglio, bass
Alessandro Ciccolini, Patrizio Focardi, Paolo Cantamessa, Marco Piantoni, Nunzia Sorrentino, Massimo Percivaldi, violin; Rosario Di Meglio, viola; Alberto Guerrero, cello; Giorgio Sanvito, double bass; Chiara Granata, harp; Franco Pavan, theorbo; Patrizia Varone, harpsichord; Carlo Maria Barile, organ

Antonio Florio is a specialist in Neapolitan music. Over the last couple of decades he has recorded music by little-known composers from the second half of the 17th and the early 18th century. In 1995 he recorded a Magnificat by Antonio Nola, and now he devotes an entire disc to the oeuvre of this same composer, who has no entry in New Grove, which is an indication that so far he has received hardly any attention.

Biographical information about Nola is very scarce. The booklet to the present recording includes an essay by the musicologist Dinko Fabris, which includes all the data we have about him. He was born in Naples, and at the age of ten he entered the Pietà dei Turchini Conservatory, which at the time was directed by Giovanni Salvatore, one of the great masters of the keyboard. Salvatore was also the teacher of Francesco Provenzale, another composer who has become known thanks to Antonio Florio. After concluding his studies, Nola was appointed organist at Naples Cathedral. He began to collaborate with the Philippine Oratorio dei Girolamini, which was a centre of the performance of sacred music. Documents indicate that Nola had become a priest. At his death, probably in 1713, he left his entire oeuvre to the Oratorio. It comprises about 150 pieces, dated between 1669 and 1713.

This programme, which was put together for and performed at the Misteria Paschalia Festival at Cracow in 2019, offers a survey of the various genres in Nola's output. It opens and closes with two different settings of Psalm 133 (134), Ecce nunc benedicite, both for five voices. The first setting requires the participation of violins, whereas in the second setting this is left to the discretion of the performers. In several of his compositions Nola suggests to omit one of the vocal parts or the instrumental parts, for practical reasons, as not every church or institution had the same forces at its disposal.

Psalm settings like these were intended for liturgical performance. That is probably also the case with Sacramento Laudes, a motet for solo voice and violins which is about the Holy Sacrament, which is described in one of its recitatives as "source of all virtues". It has the typical emotive character of many such pieces from the baroque period, such as Spanish villancicos, many of which have the same subject.

Tristes erant Apostoli is an example of a motet, where Nola offers different options for the performance. It is for five voices, but the fifth part can be omitted. On the other hand, the title adds con ripieni, which indicates that all the parts can be doubled by ripienists. This motet is intended for Easter: it opens with Jesus's disciples lamenting his death, and then learning that he has risen from the dead. The text is put together from different sources, such as the hymn Veni creator spiritus.

The Stabat mater is one of many settings by Italian composers of the 17th and 18th centuries. The text was removed from the liturgy by the Council of Trent, and only restored to its liturgical place in 1727. In between, such settings were performed in the circles of the fraternities at the Feast of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, on the Friday before Palm Sunday. That day was the start of the Holy Week devotions. Nola's Stabat mater is through-composed, and not divided into different sections, as is, for instance, Pergolesi's famous setting. There are only very short solo interventions. It includes quite some harmonic peculiarities in the interest of text expression. A notable example of text illustration is on the words "inflammatus et accensus". This setting is for four voices, with violins si placet. As the violins don't play a substantial role, they can be omitted without any problem. In the other pieces on this disc, the strings only play ritornelli, but don't participate in the vocal episodes.

Dialogues belong to the repertoire performed in the Oratories, such as the Oratorio dei Girolamini. Homo et Angelo links up with a tradition established by Giacomo Carissimi in Rome, who wrote a large number of dialogues and oratorios - these terms are interchangeable. Nola's dialogue is between an angel (soprano) and Man (tenor). The latter complains about his fate as a result of sin, whereas the angel proclaims forgiveness in the way of repentance. Like the motet for the Holy Sacrament, it comprises recitatives and arias; some of the latter have a dacapo.

In addition to the vocal items by Nola, we get a trio sonata by Pietro Marchitelli, who was not born in Naples, but studied at one of the conservatories in the city. He was known as a violin virtuoso and was active as concert master in the royal chapel. Unfortunately only a small corpus of music from his pen has been preserved.

It is safe to say that this disc comprises only first recordings. That in itself makes it an important addition to the discography, especially as much Neapolitan music from the late 17th century is still unknown. This recording is a substantial contribution to our knowledge of Neapolitan music of that time. And as Nola has left a considerable oeuvre, there is every reason to hope that more of that will be brought to light in performances and recordings. The music performed here is of fine quality, and I would like to hear more from him. The performers do an excellent job here. The Cappella Neapolitana is an outstanding ensemble, which brings together a group of singers and players who feel at home in this repertoire. This disc is the best possible case for Antonio Nola.

It is regrettable that the booklet omits translations of the lyrics, especially as most of them are put together from different sources, which are not always specified, and also include free poetry. However, this should not discourage anyone from investigating this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Cappella Neapolitana

CD Reviews