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Joseph-Hector FIOCCO (1703 - 1741): "Petits motets Vol. II"

Scherzi Musicali
Dir: Nicolas Achten

rec: Jan 2016, Sint-Truiden (B), Provinciaal Museum Begijnhofkerk
Musique en Wallonie - MEW 1682 (© 2016) (73'38")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/N; lyrics - translations: E/D/F/N
Cover, track-list & booklet

Alma redemptoris mater; Exaudiat te Dominum; Laudate pueri Dominum; O beatissima virgo Maria; Proferte cantica; Salve Regina

Deborah Cachet, soprano; Reinoud Van Mechelen, tenor; Nicolas Achten, baritone, harp, theorbo; Sönke Tams Freier, bass; Beniamino Paganini, transverse flute; Christopher Palameta, oboe; Varoujan Doneyan, Patrizio Germone, violin; Géraldine Roux, viola; Lucas Peres, basse de violon; Solmund Nystabakk, archlute, theorbo; Simon Linné, theorbo; Philippe Grisvard, harpsichord; Haru Kitamika, organ

There was a time that Flanders was the birthplace of some of the greatest composers of their time. I am referring here, of course, to the 15th and 16th centuries, when representatives of the so-called Franco-Flemish school dominated the whole of Europe. Their influence lasted unto the time that the dominance of polyphony was broken and a new concertante style emerged in Italy. Since then the music scene in Flanders was in decline. It was mostly music from elsewhere that was performed. Music by home-grown composers was largely under French or Italian influence. During the 18th century an improvement in the economic situation resulted into a rise in the level of music-making. The most prominent composer in the first half of the 18th century was Joseph Hector Fiocco (1703-1741). He is best known for his keyboard works, which have been recorded by Ton Koopman (Astrée, 1978) and Ewald Demeyere (Accent, 2007). The present disc sheds light on his sacred music. It is the second time Nicolas Achten has recorded some of his motets for solo voices; in 2009 Musique en Wallonie released the first volume.

Fiocco was born in Brussels; he was the eighth child of Pietro Antonio, who was from Venice and whose presence in Brussels is documented as early as 1682. For most of his life the latter was in the service of Maximilian Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria, who became governor of the Southern Netherlands in 1692. Pietro Antonio was responsible for the performance of theatrical music and also composed sacred music. Until his death in 1714 he occupied two positions: maître de musique de la chapelle royale de la cour and a similar position at Notre-Dame du Sablon.

Joseph Hector first served the ducal chapel under his half-brother Jean-Joseph and became sous-maître in 1729 or 1730. In 1731 he settled in Antwerp, where he took up the position of choirmaster at the Cathedral, as successor to Willem de Fesch, who had moved to England. In 1737 he returned to Brussels, where he succeeded Pierre Hercule Bréhy as choirmaster of the collegiate church of St Michel and Ste Gudule. Part of his duties was the training of the choirboys. He died at the young age of 38.

Fiocco's oeuvre includes three masses, 22 motets, a Te Deum, leçons de ténèbres and the pièces de clavecin already mentioned. A part of his output has been lost, including a Requiem. Today his music is hardly known, but the fact that between 1750 and 1763 eleven times a motet by him was performed at the Concert Spirituel in Paris indicates that he was more than a local celebrity. Nicolas Achten, in his liner-notes, mentions that the solo motet Laudate pueri, included in the programme on this disc, was sung several times by the soprano Marie Fel, one of the most celebrated opera singers of France at the time.

The motets are of the type known in France as petit motet: a piece on a sacred (Latin) text for one or several solo voices and basso continuo, sometimes with a couple of melody instruments. All of Fiocco's motets include instrumental parts, mostly for strings, but sometimes also a wind instrument, such as transverse flute and oboe. Stylistically they mix elements of the French and the Italian style. The former comes to the fore, for instance, in the tessitura of the vocal parts. The alto part has the range of the French-type hautecontre, whereas the tenor parts require a light baritone voice. The Italian style manifests itself in the technical demands of the vocal parts and the instrumental writing. The motets are divided into four or five sections, mostly in the form of arias, but sometimes Fiocco also turns to the form of the recitative, either secco or accompanied. The arias mostly have a dacapo, but it is notable that the dacapos are mostly written out, including ornamentation. It allows Fiocco to apply some changes in the original material, for instance in the harmonic progression, or to abridge them. In some soprano solos a cadenza is sung; I wonder whether these are written out as well, and if such high notes are required as are sung by Deborah Cachet.

The programme opens with a setting of the Marian antiphon Salve Regina, which is in five sections. The first and last are for the tutti, and in between are a solo for soprano, a duet of tenor (baritone) and bass, as well as a tutti episode in the middle, preceded by a solo for alto (hautecontre). Next is Exaudiat te Dominus, a setting of Psalm 19, scored for two equal voices, here performed by tenor and baritone. It includes two recitatives, one for a solo voice, the other for the two voices. O beatissima virgo Maria is an example of a motet, in which the instruments play a rather prominent role. It opens with a dacapo aria for alto (hautecontre) and includes a virtuosic soprano solo as well as a dacapo duet of hautecontre and tenor. Proferte cantica is the only piece on this disc which includes a solo for bass. It is preceded by a recitative for the hautecontre and opens and closes with tutti sections. Laudate pueri seems to have the structure of the solo motet as we know it from the oeuvre of Vivaldi: two dacapo arias, embracing a recitative, and closing with an Alleluia. However, the recitative is preceded by two arias rather than one, and only the first aria has a dacapo. The disc ends with another Marian antiphone, Alma redemptoris mater, opening with a solo for tenor (baritone) and including a soprano solo with a cadenza.

I don't have the first disc with motets by Fiocco and have not heard it either. But having listened to this disc I am going to look out for it as I greatly appreciate these pieces. These motets are very well written and excellently performed by Scherzi Musicali. We have four fine singers here who deal impressively with the technical requirements of the solo parts and whose voices blend perfectly. Together with the instrumentalists they show the qualities of Fiocco's motets which are unjustly neglected. As far as I am concerned, there is every reason to add a further disc to this series and I also would like to hear Fiocco's Leçons de ténèbres. I would be happy if Scherzi Musicali would take care of them as well.

This disc comes with informative liner-notes by Nicolas Achten, which put the composer and his music in their historical and geographical context. Don't miss it.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

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