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Virgilio MAZZOCCHI (1597 - 1646): Vespro della Beata Vergine

Cantus Cölln; Concerto Palatino
Dir: Konrad Junghänel

rec: Feb 2008, Mandelsloh, Kirche St. Osdag
Harmonia mundi - HMC 902001 (© 2009) (69'21")

Giacomo CARISSIMI (1605-1674): Exsurge cor meum [7]; O dulcissimum Mariae nomen [5]; Salve Regina; Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): Canzona a due cori [2]; Virgilio MAZZOCCHI: Beata Mater [4]; Dixit Dominus [6]; Laetatus sum [6]; Lauda Jerusalem [6]; Laudate pueri [6]; Magnificat [6]; Nisi Dominus [6]; Surge amica mea [3]; Giovanni Pierluigi DA PALESTRINA (1525-1594): Ave maris stella [1]

(Sources: [1] Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Hymni totius anni, 1589 [2] Girolamo Frescobaldi, Canzoni per sonar, 1608; [3] Francesco Sammaruco (ed), Sacri affetti con testi da diversi eccellentissimi autori, 1625; [4] Virgilio Mazzocchi, Sacri flores binis, ternis, quaternisque vocibus concinendi, op. 1, 1640; [5] Scelta di Motetti de diversi eccellentissimi autori, 1647; [6] Virgilio Mazzocchi, Psalmi Vespertini binis choris concinendi, 1648; [7] Giacomo Carissimi, Arion Romanus sive Liber primus sacrarum cantionum, 1670)

[CC] Johanna Koslowski, Ulrike Hofbauer, soprano; Elisabeth Popien, contralto; Henning Voss, alto; Hans Jörg Mammel, Wilfried Jochens, tenor; Wolf Matthias Friedrich, Markus Flaig, bass; Ulla Bundies, violin; Mieneke van der Velden, Kaori Uemura, Ricardo Rodriguez Miranda, viola da gamba; Matthias Müller, violone, lirone; Carsten Lohff, organ
[CP] Bruce Dickey, cornett; Simen van Mechelen, Charles Toet, Wim Becu, trombones

The name of Mazzocchi isn't quite unknown - René Jacobs, for instance, has recorded a selection from the Sacrae Cantiones of 1664. But - that is Domenico Mazzocchi. He was the older brother of Virgilio, some of whose music is recorded for the first time by Cantus Cölln.

Virgilio was born in Civita Castellana, studied at the seminary there and took lower orders in 1614. He moved to Rome, and it seems he studied with his brother. He was at the service of Cardinal Ippolito Aldobrandini, and it was probably due to the Cardinal's influence that in 1625 he entered the service of Cardinal Francesco Barberini. This opened the way to make a career as a church musician, and in 1629 he was appointed to the Cappella Giulia at S Pietro, where he stayed until his death.

Mazzocchi quickly rose to prominence, and in a way overshadowed his brother as sometimes he had to delegate the writing of music for feast days to him being too busy with his many duties. His oeuvre contains sacred music for the liturgy, oratorios, sacred and secular operas, intermedii and cantatas.

Konrad Junghänel has put together music from several of Mazzocchi's collections of music in the form of Vespers, which was one of the main liturgical events at the time. The five Psalms and the Magnificat are all from the Psalmi Vespertini of 1648, which are written for double choir. There were ample opportunities for polychoral music in the Cappella Giulia: in 1640 Mazzocchi used up to 16 choirs and an 'echo choir'.

In his music Mazzocchi mixes the stile antico and the stile nuovo. There are passages with imitative counterpoint, but also concertante episodes, especially where the number of voices is reduced. In the interest of text expression Mazzocchi also makes use of contrasts in rhythm and dynamics. All works from this collection are for voices and basso continuo. There are no independent instrumental parts, but in this recording instruments are added which play colla parte with the voices. That was a very common practice at the time, and reflects the splendour of liturgical events in Rome.

In addition to the Vesper Psalms we hear a number of motets by Mazzocchi and one of his main contemporaries, Giacomo Carissimi. After the first Psalm (Dixit Dominus) we hear Beata Mater by Mazzocchi which is written for two voices - soprano and tenor - and is a prayer to Mary to "intercede for us to the Lord". There are extended coloraturas on "Regina".
Surge, amica mea is a text from the Song of Songs and is set by Mazzocchi for three voices, two sopranos and alto.

Three vocal works by Giacomo Carissimi are performed. Carissimi is mostly known for his oratorios, but he also composed other music, like the motets which are included here. They have the function of antiphons and are chosen because of their connection to Marian feasts.
Exsurge cor meum is a motet for solo voice, here sung by Hans Jörg Mammel, on a text by an anonymous 17th-century author: "Rise up, my soul, to the sound of the lyre (...), utter sweet melodies to the Virgin Mother of God".
O dulcissimum Mariae nomen is again on an anonymous 17th-century text, and is written for two voices - here two tenors - and bc. Considering the content of this motet - it begins with "O most sweet name of Mary" - it was appropriate to use lirone with its sweet sound in the basso continuo.
It is again used in Carissimi's setting of the Salve Regina, which is for two sopranos and bass. The words "in hac lacrimarum valle" are set a to slow descending line. The esclamazione on a word like "o" is rightly sung here on a messa di voce.

Probably a bit surprising is the inclusion of an Ave Maria by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, a strict representative of the stile antico. But he was still held in high esteem, and therefore it is not unsuitable to perform this piece here. In the performance the voices are supported by organ. That is one possibility, but I wonder whether such pieces were probably performed like other music. I don't think a performance with instruments playing colla parte with the voices would be inappropriate.

Also represented is Girolamo Frescobaldi, the main composer of keyboard music in Rome, but here represented with an instrumental canzona. This is a genre he also contributed to, but that is still not really well-known.

'Reconstructions' of liturgical events are always a bit questionable as we mostly don't know which music was performed within a service. But as long as one doesn't take the title 'Vespers' too seriously a programme like this is preferable to just performing a sequence of unrelated pieces. Here we get at least some idea of what music was written for and how it was used in a liturgical setting.

The music on this disc is wonderful and it is hard to understand why Virgilio Mazzocchi has so far been completely ignored. Also the sacred music by Carissimi - apart from his oratorios - deserves to be given more attention.

Cantus Cölln has a vast experience in Italian sacred music of the 17th century, and it delivers very fine performances. The blending of the voices is excellent, and the individual voices are highly suitable for this kind of music. It was only in Surge, amica mea that I wasn't totally satisfied with the balance between the voices as the alto was a little overshadowed by the two sopranos.

Concerto Palatino is one of the best ensembles of its kind in the world. They often work with Cantus Cölln and its instrumentalists, and together they make a great team.

To sum it up: this is a disc which reveals the first-rate quality of Virgilio Mazzocchi's music in splendid performances. Highly recommendable.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Cantus Cölln
Concerto Palatino

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