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Stefano NASCIMBENI (c1561 - 1621): Messa Paradis del Amours, 1612

Cappella Musicale di S. Barbara
Dir: Umberto Forni

rec: Dec 4, 2011 (live), Mantua, Basilica di S. Barbara
Tactus - TC 561401 ( 2012) (61'18")
Liner-notes: E/I; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

anon: Toccata II. tonoa; Ottavio BARGNANI (c1570-c1627): Canzon XVI 5 [1]; Giulio CARDI (1582-1622): Anima mea liquefacta est, due canti e basso [4]; Giovanni CONTINO (c1513-1574), arr Marco Vincenzi: Non mi duol di morirea; Francesco DOGNAZZI (c1585-after 1643): Nigra sum, Canto e Tenore [4]; Amante FRANZONI (1579-1630): Canzon 4 [3]; Canzone La Gonzaga [3]; Federico MALGARINI (?-after 1620): Quam pulchra es, Basso solo [4]; Stefano NASCIMBENI: Ingeniosus amor 8; Messa Paradis del Amours [2]; Quam pulchri sunt, motetto 4 [5]; Germano PALLAVICINO (c1545-1610): Toccata La Gonzagaa; Francesco RASI (1574-1621): Vulnerasti cor meum, due Canti [4]; Lorenzo SANCI (c1600-c1650): Amo Christum, alto solo [4]

Sources: [1] Ottavio Bargnani, Secondo libro delle canzoni da suonare a 4, 5, 8, 1611; [2] Stefano Nascimbeni, Messe a otti voci, con la Partitura per l'Organo, 1612; [3] Amante Franzoni, Apparato musicale di messa, sinfonie, canzoni, motetti, & letanie della Beata Vergine, 1613; [4] Federico Malgarini, ed, Motetti a una, due, tre e quattro voci col basso continuo per l'organo, 1618; [5] Alessandro Vincenti, ed, Symbolae diversorum Musicorum binis, ternis, quaternis et quinis vocibus cantandae, 1620

Loredana Bigi, Silvia Frigato, soprano; Alberto Allegrezza, alto; Vincenzo di Donato, Jon Etxabe-Arzuaga, tenor; Davide Benetti, bass; Luigi Lupo, recorder, renaissance transverse flute; Doron David Sherwin, cornett; Batrice Pornon, theorbo; Umberto Forni, positive organ; Marco Vincenzi, organ (Antegnati) (soloa)

This disc brings us to Mantua, where Stefano Nascimbeni was maestro di cappella of the ducal chapel of Santa Barbara from 1609 to 1612. In this position he was the successor to Giovanni Giacomo Gastoldi. In 1612 he published his first book of masses; whether a second book has ever been published is not known. The book includes three masses; one of them is the Messa Paradis des Amours. The title indicates that its cantus firmus is a chanson, but this has not been found. The mass is scored for eight voices in two choirs and is written in the stile antico but there are clear traces of the new style which was developing at the time the book with masses was printed. The vocal lines are livelier than in mass compositions of the previous century and the harmonic language shows a closer connection between text and music than was common previously.

Therefore the inclusion of pieces which reflect the stile nuovo is fitting. The liner-notes give useful information about the composer and his oeuvre as well as the other composers represented in the programme. However, there is no explanation of the way the mass has been put together. The ordinary chants are performed here in the settings by Nascimbeni; for the proprer chants various pieces by contemporaries have been chosen. The propers vary from feast to feast, but we are not told which feast the performers had in mind. It was common practice to replace chants by motets or even instrumental pieces. It seems a bit odd that here in various places no less than three pieces are performed between the sections of the ordinary: between the Credo and the Sanctus and between the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei.

The names of the other composers are also hardly known; most of them were connected in one way or the other with Mantua. Today we know mostly the names of the maestri di cappella, but there were many musicians who worked at the Mantuan court as singers or instrumentalists, and they often were also active as composers. One of the better-known is Francesco Rasi who was a tenor and chitarrone player and has become best-known for his participation in performances of Jacopo Peri's Euridice and his likely first performance of the role of Orfeo in Monteverdi's opera. Vulnerasti cor meum is a piece for two voices in monodic style on a text from the Song of Songs. So are most of the other vocal items, for instance Quam pulchra es by Federico Malgarini, a singer in Santa Barbara. Another singer at the court was Giulio Cardi; his Anima mea liquefacta est is also on a text from the Song of Songs and is scored for two sopranos and bass. Lorenzo Sanci was a colleague of his; Amo Christum is for alto solo. Francesco Dognazzi is of a later generation; he was a singer and acted for a number of years as maestro di cappella in Mantua.

The programme also includes some instrumental pieces. It opens with an anonymous Toccata II. toni; the source is not mentioned in the booklet. This and the other organ pieces are played at the historical Antegnati organ in the basilica of Santa Barbara in Mantua which dates from 1565. Its colours are wonderfully displayed in the various pieces on this disc, for instance in Non mi duol di morire, a madrigal by Giovanni Contino which has been intabulated by one of the organists in this recording, Marco Vincenzi. This was common practice at the time. Giovanni Bargnani, an organist from Brescia, was one of many who took the popular song Madre, non mi far Monaca, shortly known as La Monaca or Monica, as the starting point for an instrumental canzona. Amante Franzoni was for most of his life connected to the court of the Gonzagas, from 1612 to 1630 as maestro di cappella. This connection is exposed in his Canzona La Gonzaga.

This disc deserves a warm welcome as it allows us to make the acquaintance with several unknown composers. The performances of the instrumental pieces and the instrumental parts in the vocal items is outstanding. Doron David Sherwin is one of the world's leading players of the cornett, and his performances are delightful. The vocal parts are less satisfying. The singers have nice voices, but are not always completely up to the task. Davide Benetti has some problems with the florid sequences of notes in Malgarini's Quam pulchra es. In most sacred concertos there is too little ornamentation and too little dynamic contrast. Most problematic is the frequent slight but clearly noticeable wobble in Loredana Bigi's voice. That damages the performance of the ensemble pieces, such as Nascimbeni's mass.

That said, if you are interested in Italian music from this period this disc is certainly a highly interesting proposal and well worth investigating. It proves that there is still a large repertoire to be discovered.

Johan van Veen ( 2013)

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