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Giacomo Antonio PERTI (1661 - 1756): "Grands Motets for Ferdinando de' Medici (1704-1706)"

Basler Madrigalisten; Musica Fiorita
Dir: Daniela Dolci

rec: Dec 5 - 9, 2015, Basel, Adullam-Kapelle
Pan Classics - PC 10357 (© 2017) (66'47")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Cantate laeta carminaa; Date melos, date honoresb; Gaudeamus omnesc

[BM] Cristina Grifone (soloab), Jessica Jans (soloc), soprano; Flavio Ferri-Benedetti (solob), Kaspar Kröner, alto; Ivo Houn (solobc), Nicolas Savoy, tenor; Raitis Grigalis (soloabc), Ismael Arroniz, bass
[MF] Jean-François Madeuf, Henry Moderlak, trumpet; Bork-Frithjof Smith, William Dongois, cornett; German Etcheverri, Katharina Heutjer, violin; Lola Fernandez, viola; Jonathan Pesek, Simone Tieppo, cello; Marco Lo Cicero, violone; Rafael Bonavita, Juan Sebastian Lima, theorbo; Daniela Dolci, Joan Boronat Sanz, organ

Giacomo Antonio Perti is pretty well-known, although his music is seldom performed and not well represented on disc. His name is inextricably associated with Bologna: he was born there and from 1696 until his death he was maestro di cappella at the basilica S Petronio. He was held in high esteem, as shows his contacts with people of royalty and aristocrats. Several of his pupils were to become composers of fame, such as Giuseppe Torelli, Francesco Manfredini and 'padre' Giovanni Battista Martini.

Perti has left a large corpus of sacred and secular music. Most compositions of the former category were written for performance in S Petronio, some of them polychoral. Sacred music written in Italy in the 17th century was often rather conservative, dominated by counterpoint and strongly influenced by the stile antico. This was largely due to the fact that the ecclesiastical authorities were rather suspicious about the modern style, which in their view was too operatic. The present disc sheds light on a different side of Perti. The grands motets performed here are from a set of six, which he composed for Ferdinando de' Medici (1663-1713) in Florence.

Ferdinando was the son of Grand Duke Cosimo III of Tuscany (1642-1723), who in 1661 married Marguerite Louise d'Orléans, daughter of Gaston, Duke of Orléans and Marguerite of Lorraine, and cousin of Louis XIV. In the article in Wikipedia she is called "libertine and unruly in conduct", and her relations with her husband and his family were problematic. In 1675 the couple separated, and Marguerite Louise returned to France. She was supposed to stay in a convent, but she often visited her cousin in Versailles. It is probably in an attempt to emulate musical practice in Versailles that Ferdinando, who was more interested in music than in politics, started to organise large-scale musical events, including opera performances. First he turned to Alessandro Scarlatti, who composed a motet for double choir, which was performed on the day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. However, the two men didn't go along very well, and therefore Ferdinando contracted Perti, who had already composed several operas for performances in the theatre he had built in his villa, to write grands motets, as they were often performed in Versailles.

Three of these motets are performed here. Despite the adherence to the French tradition of this genre, these works are different from what was written and performed in France. Firstly, whereas the French grands motets were mostly settings of Psalms, these motets by Perti are written on texts about the Virgin Mary. The closing choruses include a prayer to her. Secondly, there is no track of any French influence in Perti's style of writing. This is purely Italian music. It is also vey different from the music Perti composed for San Petronio. The performances took place outside church and therefore did not fall under the jurisdiction of the church. The composer could write whatever he liked and what he knew his client wanted to hear. These motets are under the unmistakable influence of the chamber cantata and of opera.

Every motet opens and closes with a chorus; the closing chorus often includes a fugue. In between are recitatives and dacapo arias; Date melos, date honores and Gaudeamus omnes also include a duet. These duets are for tenor and bass; the tenor has no further arias, whereas the bass has one in Cantate laeta carmina. The other solo arias are for soprano, except 'Flores Arni flores principum' (Date melos, date honores), which is for alto. This is a fine example of Perti's art of setting a text. "Flowers of the Arno, flowers of princes, bring to life the princes of flowers". Perti's florid writing, both for the voice and for the obbligato violin, fits the text perfectly. In the same motet the first recitative ends with the phrase "ascendit angelorum Regina" (the queen of heaven rises [to the seat of the eternal Majesty]); this is illustrated by a rising figure and an acceleration. The ensuing aria refers to a "heavenly echo"; this is depicted by the violin, repeating the last note in the phrase of the vocal part. There is text illustration of a different kind in the aria 'Fremunt tartara', which has the traces of a rage aria: "The underworlds seethe, the demons whine, human beings laugh, angels rejoice".

The scoring of these motets is interesting. Date melos, date honores is relatively conventional: four voices, strings and bc. But the other two motets include parts for two trumpets and two cornetts. The latter is remarkable, considering that in the course of the 17th century this instrument had lost the prominent position it enjoyed in the 16th century and the first half of the 17th. In the 1690s the last cornett in the San Marco in Venice had been replaced by an oboe. However, around 1700 there was a short revival. Alessandro Scarlatti included it in some of his compositions, for instance his opera Emireno, o vero Il consiglio dell'ombra of 1697. The cornetts play an especially prominent part in Gaudeamus omnes, as this motet is in eight parts, divided over two choirs. The opening chorus begins with a kind of dialogue between the trumpets and the cornetts.

Like I wrote, Perti is not well represented on disc. Therefore this recording deserves a wholehearted welcome, especially as it sheds light on an unknown and surprising part of his output. These motets are of excellent quality, and I hope that the remaining three motets will find their way to disc, preferably performed by the same artists. The Basler Madrigalisten deliver outstanding performances of the choral parts. Five of its members also take care of the solo parts, and they do so most impressively. They all have very nice voices, which are perfectly suited to this repertoire. There is no lack of text expression, and the ornamentation is stylish and well judged. Musica Fiorita has a substantial share in the success of this production. This disc definitely ranks among the best I have heard recently.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Basler Madrigalisten
Musica Fiorita

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