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Gregorio ALLEGRI (1582 - 1652): "Opere inedite dai manoscritti della Collectio Altæmps"

Musica Flexanima Ensemble
Dir: Fabrizio Bigotti

rec: August & Sept 2011, Rome, Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music
Tactus - TC 550007 (© 2014) (74'06")
Liner-notes: E/I; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

Gregorio ALLEGRI: Canzone La Scamfortina; Canzone Sancta Maria; Canzone - Sinfonia; Lamentationes Jeremiae prophetae a 4; Missa In lectulo meo a 8, Canzone I & II; Occhi rei non mi traditea, cantata (attr); Salutis humanae sator a 8; Giovanni Francesco ANERIO (1567-1630): Canzone A; Canzone B; Canzone C; Pietro BONOMI (1555-c1617): In lectulo meo a 8

Andrea Caroline Manchée, Paola Ronchetti, soprano; Maria Alessandra Astolfi, Simona Braida (soloa), contralto; Daniele Pellegrini, alto, tenor; Fabrizio Giovannetti, tenor; Giuliano Mazzini, Andrea Robino-Rizzet, bass
David Simonacci, Giancarlo Ceccacci, violin; Gianfranco Russo, viola; Renato Criscuolo, bass violin, viola da gamba; Giovanni Bellini, lute; Simone Colavecchi, lute, theorbo; Fabiola Lekaji, Alessio Pacchiarotti, organ

Gregorio Allegri is one of the most famous composers in history, albeit exclusively for just one composition: the Miserere. It is sung all over the world, probably at least once a week, and in particular during Lent. Its fame can be traced to the 18th century when Mozart heard the piece and wrote it down. At that time it was much different rom the way it was conceived and sung in Allegri's time. In modern times attempts have been made to restore it to its first glory. The focus on this single piece has resulted in Allegri's other works being completely ignored. The Miserere has also won him the reputation of being a conservative whose style of composing belonged to the past. This is unjustified as a look at his oeuvre shows.

His first publications were Concertini for two to five voices and basso continuo, reflecting the stile moderno which had emerged around 1600. These collections date from 1618 and 1619 respectively; only the latter has been preserved. For most of his life Allegri was active as a singer (alto) in the papal choir. He was held in high esteem by his peers who elected him magistro pro tempore for the year 1650, a jubilee year. He held this post until his death two years later. An official of the papal chapel reported in February of that year: "When mass was over, the maestro di cappella announced to the assembly the death of Mr. Gregorio Allegri, our companion and distinguished composer (...). The loss of such a valorous man was felt by the whole of our college with the greatest of sorrow". The famous German theorist Athanasius Kircher chose one of his compositions as a musical example in his treatise Musurgia Universalis, alongside such distinguished masters as Carissimi, Mazzocchi and Froberger.

The present disc turns our attention to a collection of music which was brought together by Giovanni Angelo Altemps (c1586-1620), Duke of Gallese, Marches of Soriano and of the Rocchette, Lord of Mesuraca, grandson and heir to Cardinal Marco Sittico II Altemps. He had established his own chapel and the music he collected was used by that chapel. It includes pieces by the most famous masters of the time, among them Palestrina, Felice Anerio and Gregorio Allegri. The latter dedicated his second book of Concertini to the Duke.

Not all the pieces on this disc are from this source. In fact, the major work here, the Missa In lectulo meo, is in the Sistine Chapel Collection at the Apostolic Vatican Library. However, it is based on the motet In lectulo meo by the Flemish-born composer Pietro Bonomi (Pierre Bonhomme) which is in the Duke's collection. For that reason Fabrizio Bigotti assumes Allegri's mass would have been included in the collection too if the Duke had not died prematurely. This mass is scored for eight voices which reminds us that Rome had its own polychoral tradition. In contrast to Venice the two choirs in compositions performed in Rome were mostly of the same scoring: SATB. The Mass is performed here with organ accompaniment, again referring to Bonomi's motet which has an organ part. Given that the organ was not used in the papal chapel the recording reflects a performance as it could have taken place in Duke Altemps' chapel.

Another eight-part work is Salutis humanae sator, a piece for the Ascension liturgy. It comprises five stanzas which are alternately sung by one of the choirs which never join each other. In this recording the second choir is a little too far in the background. This work and the Mass are written in the stile antico, but even so Allegri includes elements of the modern style which was in vogue in his time. In comparison the two Lamentationes Jeremiae prophetae are more modern, especially in regard to the treatment of harmony. One of the settings is for higher, the other for lower voices. The instrumental works by Allegri - including the two Canzonas which are included in the Mass - are in the style of the time. It is notable that these are scored for two semi-choruses so-called in the liner-notes, meaning that they comprise two upper parts which develop a dialogue and have their own basso continuo instruments. The pieces by Anerio are of the same texture.

The most unexpected piece is the short cantata, Occhi rei non mi tradite which is for solo voice and basso continuo. It is attributed to Allegri, and if it is indeed from his pen it is one of only two secular pieces in his oeuvre, the other being a duet. It is a simple piece beginning with a refrain which is repeated after each of the ensuing two stanzas. It completes the picture of Allegri but musically it is hardly substantial.

There can be no doubt that this is a most interesting disc which should contribute to the creation of a more differentiated picture of Allegri as a composer. In his moving back and forth between the stile antico and the stile moderno he was a precursor of many Roman composers of later generations who had to obey to the ecclesiastical preference for the style of which Palestrina was the ultimate model. Even Alessandro Scarlatti composed some of his sacred music in this style. The Musica Flexanima Ensemble delivers fine performances; the mass receives here a much better interpretation than in the recording of The Choir of King's College London. The singers have nice voices and create an optimum transparency. Bigotti rightly decided not to perform these works in the style of the 16th century, for instance in regard to dynamics. The instrumental pieces also receive good performances. I would have liked the miking being somewhat closer; sometimes the choir is too much in the distance.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

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