musica Dei donum

CD reviews

The Virgin Mary in music

[I] "Ave Virgo gloriosa"
Vox Poetica Ensemble, Nova Alta
Dir: Sabino Manzo
rec: April 2016, Fermo (FM), Auditorium San Martino
Tactus - TC 600006 (© 2019) (45'38")
Liner-notes: E/I; no lyrics
Cover, track-list & booklet

Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): Ave Virgo gloriosa [3]; Canzon II à 4. Canto Alto Tenore e Basso, sopra Romanesca [4]; Canzon VI à 4. Canto Alto Tenore e Basso, sopra Romanesca [4]; Giovanni Battista GRILLO (?-1622): Canzon XVI à 4 [2]; Claudio MERULO (1533-1604): Canzon à 4 'L'olica' [1]; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Laetaniae della Beata Vergine (SV 204) [6]; Magnificat II 1° tuono a 4 voci in genere da capella (SV 282) [5]; Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725): Salve Regina a 4

Sources: [1] Giacomo Vincenti, ed., Canzon di diversi per sonar con ogni sorte di stromenti, 1588; [2] Alessandro Raverii, ed., Canzoni per sonare con ogni sorte di stromenti, 1608; Girolamo Frescobaldi, [3] Liber secundus diversarum modulationum, 1627; [4] Canzoni da sonare a una, due, tre e quattro con il Basso continuo, Libro primo, 1634; Claudio Monteverdi, [5] Selva morale e spirituale, 1640/41; [6] Messa, salmi concertati e parte da capella, et letanie della B.V., 1650

[VPE] Loretta Antonelli, Camilla Console, Cristina Domenella, Federica Fancello, Anna Giordano, Ambra Luciani, Mary O'Connor, soprano; Patrizia Antonelli, Angela Esposito, Giuseppina Ferretti, Vittoria Gaetani, Adelaide Monti, Rosalba Stortini, Cristiana Tappatà, contralto; Marco Broccoletti, Daniele Ciccalè, Roberto Coltrinari, Claudio Laconi, tenor; Giacomo Bastarelli, Carlo Bonelli, Lorenzo Chiachierra, Claudio Ferretti, Rosario Luciani, Daniele Taffi, bass
[NA] David Brutti, cornett; Stefano Bellucci, Andrea Angeloni, Danilo Tamburo, sackbut; Claudio Mastrangelo, viola da gamba

[II] "Maria, dolce Maria"
Wendy Roobol, soprano; Cassandra Luckhardt, viola da gamba; Arjen Verhage, theorbo; Krijn Koetsveld, harpsichord, organ
rec: May 18, 29 & 31, 2018, Mijnsheerenland (NL), Laurentiuskerk
Brilliant Classics - 95893 (© 2019) (63'41")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Philipp Friedrich BÖDDECKER (1607-1683): Magnificat [9]; Natus est Jesus [9]; Francesca CACCINI (1587-1640): Maria, dolce Maria [3]; Regina caeli [3]; Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): Toccata IX [2]; Johann Melchior GLETLE (1626-1683): Ave Maria [10]; Sub tuum praesidium [10]; Giovanni Girolamo KAPSPERGER (1580-1651): Ave sanctissima Maria [1]; Passacaglia [7]; Sancta Maria [6]; Tarquinio MERULA (1594-1665): Canzonetta spirituale sopra alla nanna [5]; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Il Pianto della Madonna (SV 288) [8]; Salve, O Regina (SV 326) [4]; Giovanni Felice SANCES (c1600-1679): Stabat mater [6]

[1] Giovanni Girolamo Kapsperger, Libro I di mottetti passeggiati a una voce, 1612; [2] Girolamo Frescobaldi, Toccate e partite d'intavolatura di cimbalo, libro primo, 1615; [3] Francesca Caccini, Il primo libro delle musiche a una e due voci, 1618; [4] Lorenzo Calvi, ed., Seconda raccolta de canti sacri, 1624; [5] Tarquinio Merula, Curtio precipitato et altri capricii, libro secondo, op. 13, 1638; [6] Giovanni Felice Sances, Motetti a voce sola, 1638; [7] Giovanni Girolamo Kapsperger, Libro IV d'intavolatura di chitarrone, 1640; [8] Claudio Monteverdi, Selva morale e spirituale, 1640/41; [9] Philipp Friedrich Böddecker, Sacra Partitura, 1651; [10] Johann Melchior Gletle, Expeditionis musicae classis V, 1681

One of the main threads in the history of the Christian Church of the West is the veneration of Mary. In the New Testament, she plays a minor role from the moment that Jesus starts to appear in public. At Good Friday, she is one of the bystanders at the Cross. After Jesus' resurrection, she is hardly mentioned and in the early church, which came into existence after the descent of the Holy Ghost, she has not played a role significant enough to be mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. The earliest expressions of the veneration of Mary seem to date from the second century. In the course of time, her role as the mother of Christ was extended to that of mediator between God and man. This development left its mark, both in the liturgy and in everyday life.

The two discs under review here focus on music from the 17th century. This was a particularly fruitful period as far as the veneration of Mary is concerned, for two reasons. The first is theological: Mary took an important place in the Counter Reformation, and as a result the number of pieces devoted to her greatly increased. The second is artistic: the stile nuovo which emerged in Italy around 1600, emphasized the importance of human emotions (affetti), which should be expressed in music. Traditionally the girl in the Song of Songs was identified with the Virgin Mary, and these texts were tailor-made for the new expressive style of composing. At the same time, texts were written in honour of the Virgin, which were not fundamentally different from secular love songs. In some cases, it is not easy to be sure whether a text was written for a sweetheart or for the Virgin Mary.

The two discs approach the repertoire from a different angle. The Vox Poetica Ensemble performs pieces which have been written for liturgical use, whereas Wendy Roobol rather focuses on pieces which seem to be intended for private worship in the first place.

The first disc is called 'Ave virgo gloriosa'. This is the title of a motet by Girolamo Frescobaldi, who is better known for his keyboard pieces than as a composer of sacred music. The printed edition's alto part is missing, and here we get a performance with a reconstruction of that part. It is the setting of a hymn, which probably dates from the 14th century. The text is a perfect illustration of the tendency in the veneration of Mary as described above: "Hail, glorious Virgin, sweeter than honey from the honeycomb, Glorious Mother of God, star brighter than the sun: You are that beautiful one, than whom nothing is more beautiful, Redder than the rose, whiter than the lily."

The name of Mary is specifically connected to her song as we find it in the gospel after St Luke. Monteverdi set this text several times. His most famous setting is the elaborate version in his Vespro della Beata Vergine of 1610. In the collection Selva morale e spirituale (1640/41), which is a compilation of sacred works written over a longer period, when he was maestro di cappella at St Mark's in Venice, includes two settings. Here we get the one which is rooted in the stile antico. It is an alternatim setting; the plainchant verses are performed here in the way of a falso bordone. The performers have added instruments, playing colla voce, but with additional ornamentation.

The other main work from Monteverdi's pen is the Laetaniae della Beata Vergine. Litanies were an important part of the liturgy on Marian feasts and were recited during processions and the gatherings of brotherhoods. The Litany of the Blessed Virgin, also known as the Litany of Loreto, was approved in 1587 by Pope Sixtus V. Loreto was the place where its usage was first recorded in 1558. They consist of a long sequence of invocations, which Monteverdi has divided among various groups of voices and instruments, which refers to the antiphonal practice, known since the early days of the Christian church.

The latest piece in the programme is a setting of the Salve Regina, one of the Marian antiphons, by Alessandro Scarlatti, which dates from 1703. It is scored for four voices and basso continuo, and one of its features is the use of dissonances, right from the start. It is a mixture of stile antico and elements of the contemporary style, which is characteristic of Scarlatti's music for liturgical use.

The performances of the Vox Poetica Ensemble are alright, but not something to raise my enthusiasm. It has some fine voices in its ranks, but the ensemble leaves something to be desired. The sound is not as transparent as one would wish, and the tempi are slowish. The latter goes in particular for the Laetaniae, which take considerably less time in Roland Wilson's recording: 8'20" vs 11'11". In comparison, the instrumental playing is excellent, as comes especially to the fore in the canzonas by Frescobaldi, Merulo and Grillo. It has to be added that a disc with a playing time of less than 46 minutes is barely acceptable these days. I can't imagine that it is available at full price. The booklet also omits the lyrics; on the Tactus site I have not found an option to download them.

I already referred to the secular connotations in some pieces in honour of the Virgin Mary. The title of the second disc is another indication of this tendency: "Maria, dolce Maria". This phrase is the title of a piece by Francesca Caccini - daughter of Giulio, the promoter of the stile nuovo, which opens the programme recorded by Wendy Roobol. It is taken from Francesca's only collection of music, printed in 1618. It includes the phrase: "'Mary', I ever sing, neither can my tongue deliver from my breast any happier word than when I say, 'Mary.'" It does not come as a surprise that this piece is called a madrigal. This text could easily figure in any secular love song.

"The number of 17th-century works dedicated to Mary is virtually beyond comprehension", Wendy Roobol writes in her liner-notes. She is right, and from that perspective it is a bit disappointing that she has included quite a number of pieces which are very well-known and are available in several recordings. That goes for Tarquinio Merula's Canzonetta spirituale sopra alla nanna, the Stabat mater by Giovanni Felice Sances, and of course also the two pieces by Monteverdi. Fortunately we also hear items that are hardly known, such as the compositions by Francesca Caccini, Gletle, Böddecker and Kapsperger.

Gletle is one of the very few composers in the baroque era who is of Swiss origin. He was born in Bremgarten near Zurich, but worked the largest part of his life in Augsburg in southern Germany. In 1651 he was appointed organist, and in 1654 Kapellmeister. He held both positions until his death in 1683. The two motets included here are taken from his Op. 6 (*). Böddecker was educated at the organ and the bassoon, worked at several places, such as Darmstadt, Frankfurt and Strasbourg. His oeuvre is rather small, and the two pieces performed here are taken from a collection of twelve sacred concertos and two sonatas, printed in 1651. In the Magnificat, the plainchant melody appears only at the opening and closing of the piece, but otherwise this piece is entirely free. Natus est Jesus is a free setting of a Latin text, interrupted by the German Christmas carol Joseph, lieber Joseph mein. Obviously, a piece like this is not part of the veneration of Mary; we meet her here as the mother of Christ, especially in the German carol: "Joseph my dear Joseph bring me swaddling where I can lay the child and put it gently to sleep." That is different in the two pieces by Gletle. Sub tuum praesidium refers to her role as mediator: "Our mistress, our intermediary, our Advocate, reconcile us, commend us, intercede for us with your Son."

Sances' Stabat mater is one of many settings of this medieval text, which was banned from the liturgy by the Council of Trent, and was restored to its place there in 1727. It cannot be excluded that it was performed during mass anyway, but settings like this one were probably more frequently performed in an extraliturgical context. That is almost certainly the case with Monteverdi's Il pianto della Madonna, a contrafactum of the Lamento d'Arianna, the only extant part from the opera Arianna. Monteverdi's sacred version was included in the above-mentioned collection Selva morale e spirituale. Salve, O Regina is a setting of a slightly altered text of another Marian antiphon.

Giovanni Girolamo Kapsperger is almost exclusively known for his compositions for his own instrument, the theorbo. However, he also composed vocal music, secular and sacred. Sancta Maria, succurre miseris is one of many settings of a text by Bishop Fulbert of Chartres (c952-1028), referring to Mary's role as mediator: "Pray for the people, plead for the clergy, intercede for all holy women consecrated to God." The same goes for Ave sanctissima Maria, in which she is called "uniquely pure".

This is the first solo disc of Wendy Roobol, who also participated in the complete recording of Monteverdi's madrigals by the ensemble Le Nuove Musiche, directed by Krijn Koetsveld, the keyboard player at the present disc. She has a very fine voice, and overall I like her singing, which is free of vibrato and is very clear and clean. Moreover, the typical early-baroque ornaments come off perfectly, for instance the tricky trillo. That makes it all the more disappointing that the interpretation leaves me rather unsatisfied. The main reason is that Roobol's singing is rather straightforward and lacks differentiation. The ideal of the 17th century, and especially the seconda pratica, of which all the pieces included here are specimens, was recitar cantando, a speechlike way of singing. That is largely absent here. Too often words and syllables are given the same weight, and the articulation is not crisp enough. That comes painfully to the fore in Monteverdi's Il pianto della Madonna. This is a highly dramatic piece, but this performance is rather short on drama. Merula's lullaby suffers from a lack of differentiation in articulation and dynamics. This piece also requires a more intimate acoustic. As many of the pieces in the programme were probably not intended for the liturgy but for performance in domestic surroundings, the spatial acoustic of the recording venue is less appropriate.

(*) The only substantial recording of compositions by Gletle is the complete Op. 6, performed by Daniela Dolci.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Wendy Roobol
Arjen Verhage

CD Reviews