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Alessandro GRANDI (1586 - 1630): "Motets vénitiens" (Venetian motets)

Dominique Moaty, soprano; Sharman Plesner, Caroline Gerber, violina; Jean-Christophe Deleforge, violoneb; Marie Langlet, theorboc; Pierre Cazes, harpsichordd, organe

rec: Oct 2008, Paris, Église luthérienne St Marcel
Pierre Verany - PV711101 (© 2011) (60'20")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list

Deus, Deus canticum novumbcd [1]; Hodie virgobce [1]; In lectulo meobd [1]; Jesu mi dulcissimed [2]; Jubila coelumabcd [4]; O dulce nomen Jesube [1]; O intemeratabe [1]; O quam speciosabe [2]; O quam tu pulchra esc [3]; Osculetur mebce [1]; Quantum tibi debeoabe [2]; Regina coeliabce [4]; Respice Dominec [1]; Virgo prudentissimabce [1]; Virgo prudentissimaabcd [4]

[1] Alessandro Grandi, [1] Motetti a voce sola, 1621; [2] Motetti a una, due e quattro voci, con sinfonie d'istromenti, 1625; [3] Leonardo Simonetti, ed., Ghirlanda sacra scielta da diuersi Eccellentissimi Compositori de uarij Motetti à Voce sola Libro Primo Opera Seconda, 1625; [4] Alessandro Grandi, Motetti a una, et due voci con sinfonie di due violoni, libro terzo, 1629

Alessandro Grandi can be considered one of the most important composers of the early baroque in Italy. He had the bad luck of living in the same time as Claudio Monteverdi, with whom he worked for a number of years at San Marco in Venice. It seems that the latter prevented him from publishing large-scale sacred compositions. Grandi made a virtue of necessity and concentrated at composing music for solo voices. Only later, when he worked in Bergamo, he was able to write large-scale works.

The pieces for solo voice are probably his most important and impressive contribution to music history. Grandi was a child prodigy who was given important positions at an early age. His sacred concertos show a great sensitivity to the voice and the musical illustration of a text. The fact that he was a brilliant singer himself was certainly helpful in this respect. The performance of this repertoire requires great technical skills and a fine sensitivity towards the text.

So far not that many recordings with Grandi's music have been released. One of the very best with concertos for solo voices is that with musicians from the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, directed by René Jacobs (deutsche harmonia mundi, 1993). Every disc which sheds further light on Grandi's qualities is welcome. However, this disc isn't exactly an unqualified success.

There can be no doubt about the good intentions of the performers, especially Dominique Moaty. She seems to have a special interest in Italian music of the early baroque, as she has also recorded a disc with motets by Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger. She shows a good understanding of the style of this repertoire and seems to have what it takes to perform these motets. The results are rather mixed, though.

In O quam tu pulchra es - one of Grandi's most frequently performed pieces - she apparently has problems with the pitch. Her voice sounds stressed and the ornamentation uncomfortable. However, she sings O intemerata at the same high pitch, and here I didn't notice any problems. Jesu mi dulcissime is pretty well sung, but the opening piece, O quam speciosa, is severely damaged by an incessant and pretty wide vibrato. That is one of the deficits of this disc: in too many pieces there is too much vibrato which results in a less than optimal diction.

The performances are also too one-dimensional. Ms Moaty adds quite a lot of ornamentation, but mostly of the same kind. There was more variety in this department at the time than one would guess on the basis of many modern recordings, including the present one. Ms Moaty rightly makes use of messa di voce; in my reviews I have often complained about the lack of it. However, it should be applied with sensitivity, and I don't think that is always the case here. More importantly, all such instruments of a performer are at the service of text expression. In the end it is the affetti - the emotions in the text - which should come off. And I feel that this is not the case here. Ornamentation and dynamic shading are too mannerist; I haven't noticed real emotion here. One of the reasons probably is that there is not enough freedom in the delivery. Rhythmically the singer should take more liberties, in line with the ideal of recitar cantando, in order to emphasize words or phrases in the text.

One can only be grateful for the attempt to put Grandi's brilliant music in the limelight. Unfortunately this attempt largely fails to convince.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

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