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"Sanctissima Maria - Roman Marian Motets of the 17th Century"

Susan Eitrich, sopranoa
Concerto Commovente

rec: July 3 - 6, 2006, Leonberg, Kath. Kirche Sankt Johannes der Täufer & Jan 26, 2007, Neu-Otzenrath, Kath. Kirche Sankt Simon und Thaddeusb
Organum - Ogm 291033 (© 2009) (69'30")

Giovanni BASSANO (1558-1617): Ave Maria, diminutions after Palestrina; Giacomo CARISSIMI (1605-1674): O quam pulchra esa; Bellerofonte CASTALDI (1581-1649): Lusinghevole Passegiob; Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): Canzon III; Bonifatio GRATIANI (1605-1664): Alma redemptoris matera; Salve Reginaa; Johann Hieronymus KAPSBERGER (1605-1651): Ave sanctissima Mariaa; Sancta Mariaa; Giovanni Pierluigi DA PALESTRINA (c1525-1594): Magnificat 8. tonia; Bernardo PASQUINI (1637-1710): Passacaglia in Cc; Variazioni in g minorc; Giovanni Felice SANCES (1600-1679): Stabat mater dolorosaa; Orazio TARDITI (1602-1677): Ave maris stellaa; Salve Reginaa

Martin Lubenow, cornett, cornetto muto; Rachel Harris, violin; Andrea Cordula Baur, chitarrone [solo b], lute; Roland Dopfer, harpsichord, organ [solo c]

The veneration of the Virgin Mary began in the 4th century and became increasingly important during the next centuries. It led to a large number of compositions on texts which are connected to Mary and the various stages and aspects of her life. The main texts are those of the five so-called 'Marian antiphons': Alma redemptoris mater, Ave Regina coelorum, Regina coeli, Sub tuum praesidium and Salve Regina. Another important text is Stabat mater, a poem which expresses the grief of Mary about the passion of her son, and probably dates from the 13th century.

This disc presents a programme with Marian motets which were written in Rome during the 17th century. It is interesting to look at the views of the Church on music for the liturgy. In 1562 the Council of Trent stated that during mass "all music containing, whether in the singing or at the organ, anything lascivious or impure" should be avoided. At the same time liturgical music should become simpler and their texts easier to understand. It was especially the oeuvre of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina which was considered the most ideal expression of the views of the Church.

But one could argue that the stile nuovo which made its entrance in Italy around 1600 was an even more appropriate expression of those views. In particular the predominance of the text over the music, which was advocated by Giulio Caccini, and his ideal of recitar cantando - a speechlike way of singing - were highly suitable to communicate the text to an audience. But at the same time, this style tended to erase the boundaries between sacred and secular music. And that increased the danger of the entrance of "lascivious" and "impure" influences in sacred music.

The music on this disc shows that the stile nuovo fitted the often exalted character of the Marian cult very well. The close connection between text and music allowed to translate every element of the text into music and to express all affetti these texts contained. An important tool of singers was the messa di voce, a crescendo on a single note. Often texts, stanzas or phrases begin with "o", and here the use of the messa di voce is particularly appropriate. Also ornamentation could be used to emphasize elements in the text as well as to express strong emotions.

This disc bears witness to the close connection between the Marian texts and the stile nuovo, even though the music was written by composers of the generation after Caccini and Monteverdi. This means that the strict dominance of the text over the music has been released a little. In a number of pieces episodes reflecting the ideal of recitar cantando are alternating with more lyrical passages. Some pieces are written for solo voice and basso continuo, others also contain some instrumental parts.

The programme contains also two pieces which reflect an important practice from the early stages of the concertante style. Ave Maria by Giovanni Bassano is a set of diminutions on an existing piece, in this case a motet by Palestrina. The upper voice is played with additional ornaments by a treble instrument - here the cornetto muto, whereas the other parts are performed largely unaltered by other instruments or - as in this case - by the organ. The introduction of the stile nuovo didn't mean compositions in the stile antico were completely forgotten. They were still performed, but in a more 'up to date' fashion. This disc contains an example of how such a piece could be performed: Palestrina's Magnificat VIII. toni is sung by the soprano, whereas the other parts are performed with instruments. As this is an alternatim composition, the odd verses are sung by the soprano as plainchant.

The Marian motets belong to the most exiting repertoire from the 17th century. A performance of this kind of music is technically challenging, in particular in regard to ornamentation. But its character can only be fully realised when the performers are able and willing to take risks. They have to have the courage to really go to the bottom of this music, and fully explore the high amount of emotion it contains. I am very happy to report that this is exactly what happens here.

In fact, I think this is one of the best and most exciting discs with this kind of repertoire which I have ever heard. Susan Eitrich uses the messa di voce frequently, and is not afraid to take risks in using her full dynamic range. She adds plenty of ornamentation, often very virtuosic, and does so in an impressive manner. She also comes close to the ideal of recitar cantando. Her legato in phrases where it is needed, is admirable and technically immaculate. Listen to Carissimi's O quam pulchra es: it is just the best performance of this piece I have ever heard. The instrumentalists also deliver vital contributions to the expressive interpretation of the repertoire, for instance in Salve Regina by Orazio Tarditi. They play the instrumental pieces beautifully as well. The only regret is that the organ which is used in the organ pieces by Pasquini, is not tuned in meantone.

The booklet contains extensive programme notes in German and English as well as the lyrics with German and English translations. Unfortunately the sources of the various pieces in the programme are not given. The tracklist contains some errors in regard to the scoring.

But these are only minor blots on an outstanding production which is definitely going to be one of my discs of the year.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

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