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"Allegri's Miserere & the Music of Rome"

The Cardinall's Musick
Dir: Andrew Carwood

rec: April 19 - 21, 2010, London, St Alban's Church, Holborn
Hyperion - CDA67860 ( 2011) (67'41")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translation: E

Gregorio ALLEGRI (1582-1652): Gustate et videte a 6, bc; Lamentationes Jeremiae prophetae a 4; Miserere mei Deus a 9; Felice ANERIO (c1560-1614): Salve Regina a 8; anon / Giovanni Andrea DRAGONI (c1540-1598) / Ruggiero GIOVANNELLI (c1560-1625) / Curzio MANCINI (c1553-1611) / Giovanni Pierluigi DA PALESTRINA (1525/6-1594) / Prospero SANTINI (fl 1591-1614) / Francesco SORIANO (1548/-1621) / Annibale STABILE (c1535-1595): Missa Cantantibus organis a 12; Giovanni Pierluigi DA PALESTRINA: Cantantibus organis a 5 [1]

[1] Motettorum liber tertius, 1575

Amy Haworth, Carys Lane, Cecilia Osmond, Rebecca Outram, soprano; Patrick Craig, David Gould, David Martin, alto; William Balkwill, Jonathan Bungard, George Pooley, Julian Stocker, tenor; Ben Davies, Robert Evans, Edward Grint, Robert MacDonald, bass; Simon Johnson, James McVinnie, Robert Quinney, organ

The technique of cori spezzati is usually associated with Venice. However, there were other places in Europe where it was practised as well. One of them was Rome. There are some differences, though. In Venice it was quite usual to juxtapose choirs of different scorings, for instance a high versus a low choir. In contrast, composers working in Rome mostly split up the vocal forces into two equal sections, consisting of soprano, alto, tenor and bass. Secondly, in Venice one of the purposes of the writing of music for two, three and even four choirs was to show the splendour of the city. This was further emphasized by the frequent use of instruments, in particular cornetts and sackbuts. They either supported the voices, playing colla parte or replaced some of them. It seems that in Rome only organs were used, playing colla parte with the lowest voice(s), as a basso seguente. The main purpose of polychoral music was to support the case of the Counter-Reformation. As Andrew Carwood writes in his liner-notes to this disc: "Late sixteenth-century Rome was a vigorous and energetic place, stimulated in part by the way in which the Catholic Church had responded to the gauntlet thrown down by the religious reformers of Northern Europe".

This disc bears witness to the vigour of Rome as it sheds light on some of the polychoral works written at the time. The main work is a unique example of a joint production: the Missa Cantantibus organis for 12 voices in three choirs, written by no less than seven composers. The fact that no other music of this kind is known suggests that it was written for a special occasion. It is not known when it was composed, but as Palestrina was one of the contributors it must date from before 1594. The cantus firmus is Palestrina's motet Cantantibus organis, written in honour of St Caecilia, patron saint of musicians. Therefore it is likely that the mass was also written in her honour. The composers involved were all members of the Virtuosa Compagnia dei Musici di Roma, the forerunner of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia.

Most of the composers seem to have been pupils of Palestrina. It is not known who took the initiative for the composition of this mass. One of the sources of this work has been found in the library of Duke Giovanni Angelo Altemps. Felice Anerio was his maestro di cappella in the early 1600s which suggests that he may have been responsible for bringing the composers together for this mass. He himself did not participate in the composition. The six composers who joined Palestrina each took one or several parts of the mass. The Kyrie was written by Annibale Stabile (Kyrie I), Francesco Soriano (Christe) and Giovanni Andrea Dragoni (Kyrie II). The Gloria was divided among Palestrina, Dragoni and a composer who has remained anonymous. Three composers took care of the Credo: Stabile, Soriano and Ruggiero Giovannelli. The Sanctus was composed by Prospero Santini; the Osanna and the Benedictus are omitted, for unknown reasons. The Agnus Dei is from the pen of Curzio Mancini. Because of the various composers involved there are differences in the scoring. Some are for one 4-part choir (SATB), such as Kyrie I and the Crucifixus, others are for two choirs (Christe eleison), but most are for three choirs of equal scoring (SATB). In the performance the sections for single choir are performed a cappella, in the sections for two and three choirs every vocal group is supported by an organ.

Probably to compensate for the lack of a contribution by Anerio the disc opens with one of his compositions, Salve Regina, also for two choirs. It is remarkable that Anerio makes use of the practice of cori spezzati in the Venetian manner, by juxtaposing a high (SSAT) and a low (ATTB) choir.

The remainder of this disc is devoted to Gregorio Allegri, a composer of a later generation who has become best-known for his setting of Psalm 50 (51), Miserere mei Deus. This is a piece in the stile antico which may surprise considering that he was in fact a baroque composer. It is hardly known that he also composed music for voices with a basso continuo. The disc ends with an example: the motet Gustate et videte is a meditation on the Eucharist with a refrain on words from Psalm 33. It has a basso continuo part and also sections for two and three voices with a declamatory character which shows the influence of the seconda prattica. However, music in the stile antico is not unique for Allegri. Many composers in Rome, including someone like Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725), wrote such music as the ecclesiastical authorities were suspicious of the baroque style, which was associated with opera.

The two settings of parts of the Lamentations of Jeremiah are the only compositions of this kind from Allegri's pen which are known. Especially Incipit lamentatio Jeremiae prophetae for Maundy Thursday shows some text expression. That is not the case in the famous Miserere which is purely stile antico. Andrew Carwood states that the version as it is best-known today and is frequently performed has little to do with what was written by Allegri. "The biggest debate rages about the famous high 'C'. It can be said with some certainty that a composer of Allegri's generation amd education would be highly unlikely to write the ungainly interval of an augmented fourth in the bass part in the solo section. Yet only with this interval does the top 'C' become possible and the top 'C' is now the sine qua non for the listener!". It is surprising and disappointing that Carwood has bowed for this sine qua non and decided to perform this piece in what basically is a corrupt version. He may be right that there is no reliable Urtext edition, but that is no excuse to perform it in a way which would certainly not be recognized by the composer. There are several recordings in the catalogue where the performers have at least made an attempt to perform a version which is closer to the style of the time.

This is a serious blot on what otherwise is a most interesting production. The singing is generally quite good, although now and then a wobble in the male voices is clearly audible. Julian Stocker who is the cantor in Allegri's Miserere has some problems with the pitch of his part. Either a higher voice or a lower pitch would have been preferable.

This disc's main interest is the 12-part mass which sheds light on a part of liturgical practice in Rome which is not that well known.

Johan van Veen ( 2013)

Relevant links:

The Cardinall's Musick

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