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Giovanni Paolo CIMA (c1570 - 1630): "Vespro della Beata Virgine"

Musica Fiorita; Cantilena Antiqua (Stefano Albarello)a
Dir: Daniela Dolci

rec: Nov 14 - 17, 2012, Binningen (CH), Pfarrei Heilig Kreuz
Pan Classics - PC 10316 ( 2015) (61'45")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

[in order of appearance] Giovanni Paolo CIMA: Sonata 4; plainchant: Invitatorio: Deus in adiutoriuma; Giovanni Paolo CIMA: Adiuro vos filiae Hierusalem 1, Canto over Tenore; plainchant: Antiphona: Assumpta est Mariaa; Giovanni Paolo CIMA: O dulcedo meliflua 1, Canto solo; plainchant: Antiphona: Maria virgo assumpta esa; Giovanni Paolo CIMA: Sonata 2 Violino & Violone; plainchant: Antiphona: Exaltata est sancta Dei genitrixa; Giovanni Paolo CIMA: Surge propera 2, Doi Soprani in Ecco; plainchant: Oratioa; Giovanni Paolo CIMA: Vulnerasti cor meum 3, Canto, Tenore e Basso; plainchant: Antiphona: Post partum virgo inviolataa; Giovanni Paolo CIMA: Sonata 3, Violino, Cornetto e Violone; plainchant: Antiphona: Paradisi porte per te nobis aperte sunta; Giovanni Paolo CIMA: Vidi speciosam 3, Doi Canti e Tenore; plainchant: Capitulum: In omnibus requiema; Andrea CIMA (c1580-after 1627): Capriccio 2; Sonata 4, Violino e Violone, cornetto e trombone; plainchant: Hymnus: Ave maris stellaa; Giovanni Paolo CIMA: Sonata 2 per Cornetto & Trombone, overo Violino & Violone; Quae est ista 3, Doi Canti e Tenore; plainchant: Antiphona: Hodie Maria Virgo celos ascendita; Giovanni Paolo CIMA: Ecce Maria 4, Canto, Alto, Tenore e Basso; plainchant: Benedicamus Dominoa; Giovanni Paolo CIMA: Assumpta est Maria 8, A doi chori

[MF] Doron Schleifer, soprano; Daniel Cabena, alto; Dan Dunkelblum, Dino Lthi, tenor; Raitis Grigalis, bass; Bork-Frithjof Smith, cornett; Plamena Nikitassova, violin; Michael Lang-Alsvik, viola da gamba; Jonathan Pesek, cello; Giuseppe Lo Sardo, violone; Rafael Bonavita, archlute; Juan Sebastin Lima, theorbo; Daniela Dolci, organ
[CA] Stefano Albarello, Alberto Allegrezza, Sergio Martella, Antonello Bitella, Marco Spongano

Vespers constitute one the major services of the Divine Office. In the renaissance and baroque periods many composers wrote music to be performed during Vespers, but few - if any - left a complete Vespers liturgy. Even Monteverdi's Vespro della Beata Vergine may not have been conceived as a unity, although today it is often performed as such. The Vespers which are the subject of the present disc were most certainly not. Daniela Dolci, the director of Musica Fiorita, has given this title to a sequence of vocal and instrumental works from the collection Concerti ecclesiastici which Giovanni Paolo Cima published in 1610, the same year Monteverdi's Vespers were printed.

Cima was born and died in Milan. He was educated as an organist and from 1595 until his death he held the position of organist of S Maria presso S Celso. Simultaneously he acted, albeit unofficially, as maestro di cappella at this church from 1607 onward, with an interruption from 1611 to 1614. In 1599 he published his first opus, a collection of motets for four voices. These are written in the stile antico which would continue to play an important part in his oeuvre. However, that should not be overstated as seems the case in the article on Cima in New Grove. Here we read: "The church music in his 1610 collection is on the whole conservative although the polyphonic writing does give way to some motets for solo voice and basso continuo in a pseudo-monodic style, similar to that of Viadana." The inspiration by Viadana is evident, but I can't see any reason to characterise the concertos for solo voices from the 1610 collection as 'pseudo-monodic'.

The impression these pieces make may depend on the way they are performed. Here the interpreters obviously have chosen to treat them as monodies, and that seems quite right. They are all on texts from the Song of Songs and the highly emotional content almost begs for an interpretation according to the principles of the seconda prattica. Some of their features, such as highly elaborate ornamentation and the use of dynamic contrasts (especially the messa di voce), are almost tailor-made for texts like these.

The pieces for three, four and eight voices are more conservative but still include elements of the monodic style. In this respect they are comparable with various Psalms from Monteverdi's Vespers. These elements can only be fully explored when these pieces - or at least the monodic passages - are performed with one voice per part as is the case here. The mixture of solo concertos in monodic style and pieces in which counterpoint plays a major role reflects the dichotomy which is a part of the musical climate at the time. In the oeuvre of Monteverdi we meet that same dichotomy as in the output of many composers of that time.

There is some ambiguity in the way Musica Fiorita performs Cima's music. In some pieces for several voices instruments play colla voce. That was common practice in the 16th century as in the stile antico the audibility of the text was of secondary importance. However, if this kind of works are performed in a more modern style, according to the practices of the stile nuovo, the audibility of the text is of the highest importance. That makes the participation of instruments playing colla parte not very plausible. In the eight-part Assumpta est Maria several of the parts are performed by instruments because the ensemble includes only five singers. That is a rather unlucky decision. That goes even more for Surge propera which is for two sopranos, one of them in ecco. As apparently no second soprano was available - at least not a male voice with the appropriate tessitura - the echo is performed on the cornett. However, the repetition of the text by a second soprano as an echo most certainly has a rhetorical function which is lost here.

The way the instruments are used is not the only odd aspect of this recording. What is presented as a Vespro della Beata Virgine omits an element which was a fixed part of any Vespers, on whatever Sunday or feast day they were performed: the Psalms and the Magnificat. As a result the antiphons, always connected to them, lose much of their meaning. Most of the vocal pieces have the same character as the concertos in Monteverdi's Vespers. There is also much more instrumental music than was common in Vespers at the time. It is rather strange, for instance, that two instrumental works by Andrea Cima, Giovanni Paolo's younger brother, are performed in succession. This project would have been more convincing if it had been presented as a loose sequence of pieces from the 1610 collection by Cima rather than as a liturgical unity. They are good enough to be performed separately, without any liturgical context.

Texts from the Song of Songs have often inspired composers to write some of their best music. A good example is Cima's setting of Adiuro vos, which includes a meaningful descending chromatic figure on the words "quia amore langueo" - that I am sick of love. Cima also includes chromaticism in his Sonata 2 per cornetto & trombone, overo Violino & Violone. These are just two specimens of the expressive and often virtuosic style of the Cima's.

One could argue that Doron Schleifer is a bit too much in the spotlight, especially if compared with the other singers. Adiuro vos is for soprano or tenor and could also have been sung by one of the tenors. However, Schleifer is the most impressive of the singers. His range is remarkable; even the highest notes come off without a hint of stress. He adds some nice ornamentation; his trillos are perfect. He probably could have created stronger dynamic contrasts, and in the concerto I just mentioned I sorely missed the messa di voce. The other singers are good, but not of the same level, except Raitis Grigalis, but his role is rather limited. The instrumental music written in the early decades of the 17th century is often virtuosic and technically demanding, and the pieces selected for this disc are no exception. The players of Musica Fiorita meet the challenges with flying colours.

I would have liked to know from which source(s) the plainchant has been taken. I note with satisfaction the dynamic shading in the parts which are performed by a solo voice as I find it hard to believe that it was performed entirely different from the music written by composers such as Monteverdi or Cima.

If we overlook the pretension of this recording to present a Vespro della Beata Vergine and listen to it as a sequence of sacred and instrumental pieces by two fine composers from the early 17th century we will find plenty to enjoy and to admire here.

Johan van Veen ( 2015)

Relevant links:

Cantilena Antiqua
Musica Fiorita

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