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Mario CAPUANA, Bonaventura RUBINO: Requiems

[I] Bonaventura RUBINO (1600 - 1668): Messa de Morti à 5 concertata, 1653
Cappella Musicale di Santa Maria in Campitella di Roma; Studio di Musica Antica 'Antonio il Verso' di Palermo; Ensemble La Cantoria; Franco Vito Gaiezza, organa
Dir: Vincenzo di Betta
rec: June 2014, Rome, Chiesa di S.Ambrogio della Massima; Chiesa S. Maria in Portico in Campitelli
Tactus - TC 601803 (© 2014) (75'33")
Liner-notes: E/I; lyrics - no translations
Cover, track-list & booklet

[in order of appearance]
Salomone ROSSI (c1570-1630): Sinfonia grave a 5 [1]; Bonaventura RUBINO: Messa de Morti (Requiem aeternam - Te decet hymnus; Kyrie) [3]; plainchant: Deus indulgentiarum; Epistola: Lectio libri Machabeorum; Giacomo CARISSIMI (1605-1674) (attr): Praeambulum tonus 1mus (Verso 6 & 7)a; plainchant: Absolve Domine; Bonaventura RUBINO: Messa de Morti (Sequentia: Dies irae); plainchant: Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Joannem: In illo tempore; Bonaventura RUBINO: Messa de Morti (Offertorium: Domine Jesu Christe); Johann Jacob FROBERGER (1616-1667): Ricercare IX in d minor (FbWV 409)a [4]; plainchant: Prefatio sine cantu [Ordo Missae pro Defunctis]; Bonaventura RUBINO: Messa de Morti (Sanctus); Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): [Elevazione] Toccata VIII di durezze e ligaturea [2]; plainchant: Pater noster (from: Canon Missae); Bonaventura RUBINO: Messa de Morti (Agnus Dei); Salomone ROSSI Sinfonia IX [1]; Bonaventura RUBINO: Messa de Morti (Communio: Lux aeterna; Requiem aeternam); plainchant: Postcommunio: Praesta quaesumus; Johann Jacob FROBERGER Ricercare V in F (FbWV 405)a [5]; Bonaventura RUBINO: Messa de Morti (Responsorium: Libera me); plainchant: Absolutio super tumulum; Francesco CAVALLI (1602-1676): Missa pro defunctis (Libera me: sinfonia); Girolamo FRESCOBALDI: Toccata IIa [2]

Sources: [1] Salomone Rossi, Il primo libro delle sinfonie e gagliarde, 1607; [2] Girolamo Frescobaldi, Secondo libro di toccate, 1637; [3] Bonaventura Rubino, Il secondo libro de' mottetti concertati, op. 4, 1653; Johann Jakob Froberger, [4] Libro quarto di toccate, ricercari, capricci, allemande, gigue, courante, sarabande, 1656; [5] Diverse ... curiose partite, di toccate, canzone, ricercate, alemande, correnti, sarabande e gique, 1693

[Ensemble La Cantoria] Josué Meléndez Peláez, Núria Sanromà Gabàs, cornett; Ermes Giussani, Mauro Morini, David Yacus, sackbut; Jasmina Capitanio, violone; Luca Marconato, theorbo; Angela Picco, organ

[II] Mario CAPUANA, Bonaventura RUBINO: "Requiem"
Choeur de Chambre de Namur; Giulia Genini, bassoon; Maximilian Ehrhardt, harp; Pierre-Louis Retat, organ
Dir: Leonardo García Alarcón
rec: June 2014, Stavet, Saint-Sébastien
Ricercar - RIC 353 (© 2015) (63'09")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/I; no lyrics
Cover, track-list & booklet

Mario CAPUANA (?-1646/47): Messa di defonti a 4 voci [1]; Bonaventura RUBINO (1600 - 1668): Messa de Morti à 5 concertata [2]

Sources: [1] Mario Capuana, Messa di defonti e compieta ... stampate doppo la morte dell'autore, op. 4, 1650; [2] Bonaventura Rubino, Il secondo libro de' mottetti concertati, op. 4, 1653

It is remarkable that sometimes rather obscure pieces suddenly appear on disc in different performances. That is the case with the Messa de Morti by Bonaventura Rubino. The present two discs take us to Sicily where Rubino worked for most of his life and where Mario Capuana was born and died. There is also a connection between Rubino's Requiem and Malta: here the only extant copy of the collection which includes this work is preserved and here it may have been performed.

Both composers seem to have been completely unknown quantities until these two Requiems - the only extant settings written in Sicily during the 17th century - appeared on disc. ArkivMusic doesn't refer to any other piece by either of them; therefore it seems likely that these Requiems are their first compostions to have been recorded. The rear of the Tactus disc says "world premiere recording"; it is ironic that the Ricercar recording took place in exactly the same month: June 2014. It is not a bad thing that two recordings of Rubino's Messa de Morti exist, not only because it is a nice work but also because the two performances are quite different.

Let us first turn to Rubino. He was born in Montécchio di Darfo, near Brescia. New Grove doesn't mention his year of birth; apparently more recent research has resulted in 1600 being considered the year he was born. It seems that nothing is known about his formative years and the first stages of his career. He first appears as maestro di cappella of Palermo Cathedral in 1643; he held this post until early in 1668, the year of his death. He was held in high esteem: a contemporary called him "more skilful than Amphion, superior to Arion, a second Orpheus". He was a prolific composer: between 1645 and 1658 he published seven collections of sacred music, scored for two to eight voices and basso continuo, sometimes with additional parts for strings. His op. 4 is a collection of motets for two to five voices and the Messa de Morti for five voices.

The rear of the Ricercar disc states that Rubino's Requiem is a "true apotheosis of Renaissance polyphony". That may be correct but it is only one aspect of this work. As is the case with many sacred compositions of the 17th century it is a mixture of the stile antico and the stile nuovo. Rubino was strongly inspired by Claudio Monteverdi, especially his Selva morale e spirituale and in that collection we see the same mixture. The Dies irae in Rubino's Requiem is a good example of this mixed style. It is divided in 17 sections; some of these are scored for five voices and others for one to three voices. The latter are written in the modern monodic style. This also manifests itself in the Libera me, the responsory which brings the work to a close. Whereas it is not known for which occasion this Requiem was written - not a single performance has been documented - the inclusion of the Libera me which is not a fixed part of the Requiem Mass, "reveals that this Mass was meant for solemn occasions, which were usually restricted to high-ranking ecclesiastics and state officials", as Nicolò Maccavino writes in his liner-notes to the Tactus disc. He also wrote the liner-notes to the Ricercar disc and is responsible for the transcription of both Requiems.

The solemnity of the occasion is reflected by the more old-fashioned sections of this work. In the Tactus recording this is further emphasized by its embedding in a liturgical framework. That is the main difference with García Alarcón's recording which only includes the music from Rubino's pen. The former recording opens with a sinfonia by Salomone Rossi. Then the Requiem starts with the Introitus. The music by Rubino alternates with plainchant, readings and prayers as well as organ pieces. However, this is not an attempt to present a liturgical reconstruction from a strictly historical angle. One of the organ pieces is from the pen of Johann Jacob Froberger and is taken from a collection published posthumously in 1693. It seems unlikely that Froberger's music was known in Palermo at all. The inclusion of instrumental music may raise some question marks as this was explicitly forbidden by the Church. However, it is mentioned that here and there exceptions were made, and that this was also the case in Sicily.

The Requiem is scored for five voices and bc. It is not possible to be sure how many singers were involved in performances of liturgical music in Rubino's time. Here the five-part sections are divided over the full choir, a small choir (cappella) and solo voices. In the tutti the voices are supported by two cornetts and three sackbuts playing colla voce. That is another difference with García Alarcón's performance as he confines himself to the basso continuo. An interesting issue here is the allocation of the various groups to different spaces in the church. "The polyphonic choral parts and the instrumental ones were performed in the main choir loft above the principal portal, while the solo parts were performed in the side choir loft above the chapels of the central nave. The parts entrusted to the officiant, deacon and subdeacon, and the servers' responses, were performed in the presbyteral area of the church". For that reason the latter sound from a distance and are not that easy to understand. The differing locations of the soloists and choir also mean that in the Dies irae the sound shifts from one spot to another. As the soloists are members of the choir this could never be realised in a live performance. From that perspective I am not so sure whether this was such a wise decision, especially as there seems to be no liturgical ground for the split between tutti and solo voices. Lastly, the organ items are played on a positive organ of 1635 in meantone temperament (1/4 comma).

The Ricercar recording is less specific about the line-up of the various sections of the Messa di Morti but it is my impression that here the tutti sections are also divided between the full choir and a small section of it. The consequence of not performing the work as part of a liturgical framework is that there are no spatial effects like those in the Tactus recording. Because of that all vocal and instrumental parts are closer to the listener and therefore more clearly audible.

Having listened to both this recording and the Ricercar disc I consider them as complementary as far as the performance of Rubino's Requiem is concerned. The choir and the soloists in the Ricercar recording are generally superior, especially the lower voices. However, the liturgical framework lends the Tactus recording a character of its own, and the performances are very respectable. Especially the soprano and alto soloists are fine, and so is the playing of the instrumentalists, including Franco Vito Gaiezza who plays the organ works. If you are interested in this kind of music you may like to investigate both recordings. It is to be hoped that further pieces from Rubino's oeuvre will be performed and recorded.

García Alarcón also recorded the Messa di defonti a 4 voci by Mario Capuana. He was born in Noto in Sicily; the year of his birth is not known, and we also don't know exactly when he died, but it must have been before 5 May 1647. Very little is known about his life; it seems that he was a pupil of Mariano Di Lorenzo. In 1633 he was appointed maestro di cappella of Noto and held this post until shortly before his death. It seems that in the last years of his life Capuana was in fragile health. Even so he was able to prepare the dedication to his op. 4 which includes his Requiem. The collection was printed posthumously in 1650 and dedicated to Bartolomeo Deodato, a member of a prominent family of noblemen from Noto.

Although Sicily was not exactly the centre of the world and not one of the main musical centres of Italy all of Capuano's music - apart from the op. 4 a mass for double choir from 1645 and three further collections of sacred music - was published in Venice. Moreover, copies of his music have been found in various libraries across Europe. There are quite some similarities but also differences between the two Requiems. One of the differences regards the sections which were included or omitted. The Council of Trent (1543-1563) had laid down the basic structure of the Requiem Mass but it was quite common to omit some sections which explains the differences between various settings from the baroque era. Both Requiems omit the tract, the Hostias et preces and the Benedictus. Unlike Capuana Rubino omits the Requiem aeternam of the gradual. In the Tactus recording the missing sections are performed in plainchant.

Nicolò Maccavino, in his liner-notes to the Ricercar disc, mentions various features in both Requiem Masses as far as the use of harmony and musical figures for expressive reasons are concerned. I have already referred to the rear of the Ricercar disc characterising Rubino's Messa di Morti as "a true apotheosis of Renaissance polyphony". In contrast, Capuana's Messa di defonti "is imbued with the intense emotion of the madrigal school". This suggests a pretty strong contrast in style between these two works but to me that seems exaggerated. One could argue that Capuana's Requiem is a little more modern in its use of monody and text expression and is also a bit more daring in its use of harmony but the similarities are more notable than the differences. I already mentioned that Rubino's Requiem is a mixture of prima and seconda prattica. Capuana's Requiem is not fundamentally different in that respect. This was also quite common in the 17th century: especially in Rome composers often turned to the stile antico in their sacred works, albeit including aspects of the contemporary concertante style.

The Tactus recording more or less emphasizes the 'old-fashioned' aspects of Rubino's Requiem by using cornetts and sackbuts playing colla voce which is a practice rooting in the 16th century and gradually becoming obsolete during the 17th century. However, if one listens to the Ricercar recording - which omits all instruments except the basso continuo - the differences between the two works are not fundamental.

García Alarcón's recording of Rubino's mass is complementary; his addition of Capuana's Requiem adds to its value. These two Requiems are excellent compositions and one has to be grateful to both ensembles for bringing them to our attention. It seems very worthwhile to further explore the oeuvre of these two composers.

It is regrettable that Ricercar has omitted the lyrics in the booklet, something I did not expect from this label. Tactus offers the lyrics for download but unfortunately without a translation. However, these are liturgical texts and translations should be available on the internet.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Choeur de Chambre de Namur
Ensemble La Cantoria

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