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Joseph Hector FIOCCO (1703 - 1741): Lamentationes Hebdomadae Sanctae

Ensemble Bonne Corde
Dir: Diana Vinagre

rec: Nov 2 - 7, 2021, Lisbon, Igreja do Menino Deus
Ramée - RAM 2105 (2 CDs) (© 2022) (2.09'14")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Première Lamentation du Mercredy Sainta; Seconde Lamentation du Mercredy Sainta; Troisième Lamentarion du Mercredy Sainta; Première Lamentation du Jeudi Saintb; Lettione prima di Giovedi Santob; Seconde Lamentation du Jeudi Saintb; Troisième Lamentation du Jeudi Saintb; Lectio 3tia In parascevec; Première Lamentation du Vendredi Sainta; Seconde Lamentation du Vendredi Sainta; Venerdi Santo Oratio Jeremiec

Ana Vieira Leitea, Ana Quintansb, soprano; Hugo Oliveira, baritonec; Diana Vinagre, Rebecca Rosen, cello; Marta Vicente, double bass; Fernando Miguel Jalôto, organ

The Lamentations of Jeremiah have been set polyphonically and in the form of sacred concertos by many composers in the course of history. Before the Reformation they were part of the celebrations of the last three days of Holy Week, known as triduum sacrum. This continued in the Roman Catholic part of Europe after the Reformation. In the Protestant world they were not taken into account for the celebrations of Holy Week: in Lutheran Germany composers rather set the narrative of Jesus's Passion in the Gospels.

For practical reasons, in France the Lamentations, known as Leçons de Ténèbres, were moved from the first Nocturn of Matins on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday to the Vespers of the preceding day. This explains the titles, referring to Mercredy, Jeudi and Vendredi Saint respectively. That is also the case with the Lamentations that Joseph Hector Fiocco set in 1733.

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 harpsichord music. A part of his output has been lost, including a Requiem. 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.

The recording under review here comprises his complete settings of the Lamentations. This is probably the best-known part of his oeuvre: probably all of them have been recorded once or several times. I could find one recording of five of them, but mostly only a few have been recorded. A particular important feature of this recording is that it includes two settings that were not known before, and one version that is different from the one that was known.

The Lamentations have been preserved in two manuscripts. The one that was known and has always been used for performances, is kept in Brussels. This also the source that was the starting point of this recording. Diana Vinagre, the ensemble's director, found a second manuscript in Antwerp. Some of the settings included in it are identical with those in the Brussels manuscript, but it also contains two settings that are entirely different. A third lamentation is transposed to a different key. The latter is performed here as an alternative to the better-known Brussels version.

All lamentations are scored for solo voice and basso continuo, which was pretty much the standard in both France and Italy, although there are also settings for different scorings. What is especially notable in Fiocco's settings are the obbligato parts for one or two cellos in most of them; four of the eleven are without such parts. Their role is different, but often they are given such prominent parts that the lamentations turn into duets for voice and cello. The participation of two cellos can result in particularly dramatic passages, such as at the end of the second section of the Troisième Lamentation du Jeudi saint. This effectively underlines the text: "He has made my flesh and my skin waste away, and broken my bones."

In Fiocco's time music in the Austrian Netherlands - what is known today as Belgium - was a mixture of Italian and French elements. In his Lamentations Fiocco mixes the two, but in different ways. The first three, for mercredy saint - are predominantly French, which comes especially to the fore in the way the Hebrew letters at the start of each verse are treated. French composers set them as vocalises, with a rather limited range. That is also the way Fiocco has treated them. Overall, French elegance dominates these three Lamentations. In the second set of three the Italian style manifests itself more clearly. There are passages of a marked declamatory character and some episodes have the traces of a recitative. Some of the Hebrew letters are much shorter, have a wide range and include coloratura. However, the difference should not be exaggerated. In the last section of the Première Lamentation du Mercredi saint we also find a recitativic passage, and the fourth section of the Seconde Lamentation du Jeudi saint opens with a setting of the letter samech, which takes about one minute - that is almost half of the entire section. As far as the additional and alternative settings are concerned: in one of the former and in the latter the solo part is scored for bass rather than soprano. This was rather unusual at the time; I can't think only of settings for bass by Marc-Antoine Charpentier.

It is very likely that Fiocco wrote these Lamentatations during his time in Antwerp. However, they must have found some dissemination, as they have landed in the library of the Brussels conservatoire. Moreover, Charles-Joseph Van Helmont, who succeeded Fiocco as music director at St Gudule, also composed Lamentations - his settings are entitled Leçons de Ténèbres - and these were clearly inspired by those of Fiocco.

The importance of this production can hardly be overstated. It is very likely the first recording of the complete Lamentations by Joseph-Hector Fiocco, and the addition of two hitherto unknown settings only adds to its value. Moreover, it is only in the last fifteen years or so that the music written in the Austrian Netherlands during the 18th century is given serious attention. On the basis of what I have heard, there is every reason to applaud these efforts, as very fine music was written by the likes of Fiocco, Van Helmont, Bréhy, Boutmy, De Croes, Van Maldere and Kennis - to mention just a few. It is to be hoped that what has been released so far will encourage further examinations of what is available in printed editions and in archives and libraries. And then: these settings by Fiocco are of excellent quality, and it is not surprising that some of them have been recorded before. Maybe I have heard one or some of them, but that must have been quite a long time ago. It seems unlikely, though, that the performances were as good as what we get there. The voices of Ana Vieira Leite and Ana Quintans are not that different, which contributes to the coherence of these performances. Both deliver outstanding performances. They have what it takes to bring these pieces to life, and stylistically they are entirely convincing. Hugo Oliveira has a nice voice as well, and he sings his two Lamentations quite well. The slight flutter in his voice is disappointing as it destabilises the pitch. The instrumental contributions are also first-class. The two cellos play a substantial role, and Fernando Miguel Jalôto is responsible for differentiated realizations of the basso continuo.

I hope to hear more Fiocco and also more from this fine ensemble.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

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