musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Giacomo Antonio PERTI (1661 - 1756): "Messa, Salmi, Sinfonie e Magnificat"

Silvia Vajente, Pamela Lucciarini, soprano; Gloria Banditelli, contralto; Vincenzo Di Donato, tenor; Gastone Sarti, bass
Coro 'Color Temporis', Orchestra Barocca di Bologna
Dir: Paolo Faldi

rec: March 22 - 26, 2006, Bologna, Parrocchia della Beata Vergine del Carmine, Monte Donato (Sala Polivalente 'Giubileo')
Tactus - TC 661602 ( 2007) (60'22")

Dixit Dominus a 4 con strumenti; Laudate pueri a 3; Magnificat 4; Messa a 5 2 Sinfonie avanti la Messa

Elisa Imballano, Katia Ciampo, Veronica Medina, Silvia Tarozzi, Erika Scherl, Alessia Turri, violin; Gianfranco Russo, Emanuele Marcante, viola; Vincenzo De Franco, cello; Diego Busato, violone; Giovanni Calcaterra, double bass; Miranda Aureli, organ

Giacomo Antonio Perti was a contemporary of Vivaldi and some other famous masters of the Italian late baroque. As a result he has remained in the shadow of those masters, which is rather unfair considering the quality of his music. This recording was made as part of the commemoration of his death, something the music world has hardly taken note of. In the past Sergio Vartolo and his ensembles, connected to the San Petronio basilica in Bologna, have recorded some of his music, but there is still much to be discovered. For those who know nothing of Perti's music, this disc is a good start.

It is no coincidence that Perti's music has been given attention to by ensembles from Bologna, as it was here that Perti was born and died and worked 60 years as maestro di cappella in San Petronio. Among his teachers was Petronio Franceschini, who from 1675 until his death in 1680 was a cellist at San Petronio, and also active as a composer of religious music. In 1678 Perti's first music was performed and in 1681 he was admitted as composer to the Accademia Filarmonica. His studies with Giuseppe Corso in Parma strongly influenced the development of his style of composing, which features a clear preference for polyphony. In 1696 he was appointed maestro di cappella at San Petronio, and in later years he held the same position - simultaneously - in some other churches.

The circumstances in San Petronio were not always ideal. Due to financial trouble there was no fixed ensemble in the cathedral when Perti started as maestro di cappella. In later years the situation improved considerably, and in 1723 Perti had no less than 36 musicians at his disposal. He composed a large number of works for ecclesiastical use, in addition to oratorios and operas, secular cantatas and a small number of instrumental works.

The present disc brings some specimen of Perti's vocal works for the church. It starts with a setting of the Mass, which consists of Kyrie and Gloria only - a normal practice in San Petronio. It opens with a Sinfonia which is followed by the Kyrie, as usual in three sections. The first and last are for tutti forces and both fugal, whereas the second section, the Christe eleison, is set for three solo voices: soprano, alto and bass. In the second section of the Gloria the word "pax" is singled out through a sequence of strong chords by tutti and instruments in turn. The 'laudamus te' is set for soprano solo, and contains long coloraturas on "laudamus" and "glorificamus". The Gloria also contains other sections for soloists, for alto and for bass, as well as a duet for two sopranos ('Domine filii'). The solo part for bass in 'Domine Deus' is remarkable because of its frequent leaps. The 'Qui tollis - Miserere nobis' is very expressive and contains strong dissonants. The Gloria ends with a fugal section ('Cum Sancto Spiritu').

The Mass is followed by the first of two Sinfoniae avanti la Messa of which Perti has written 15 in total. They consist of three sections, the first and last of which are very short and in a slow tempo, whereas the middle section is more extended, in a fast tempo. In total these pieces don't take more than a little over 2 minutes.

This disc also contains two Psalm settings. Laudate pueri is a setting of Psalm 113 (Vulgata: 112) and begins with a bass solo, again with frequent leaps; he is later joined by soprano and alto. Next the alto has a solo in 'Quis sicut Dominus'. The strings play ascending figures on the text "in alti habitat" (lives upon high). The doxology is written in a very lively rhythm and ends with a chord of the strings, staccato and forte.

The setting of Psalm 110 (109), Dixit Dominus, doesn't contain real solo sections; the scoring is indicated as "a 4 con stromenti". Like in Laudate pueri there is some strong text expression, like the staccato chords of the strings on "iudicabit" (shall judge) and the illustration of "confregit in diae irae suae reges" (he shall destroy kings on the day of his wrath). Descending and ascending figures are used to depict the last verse: "he shall drink from the brook in the way, therefore shall he lift up his head".

The disc ends with the Magnificat, written for 4-part choir and instruments. There are dissonants on "et misericordia" and on "recordatus misericordiae suae" the strings play a sequence of chords, here played forte. The closing sections 'Sicut erat' and 'Amen' are again fugal.

This recording is most interesting in regard to the repertoire by Perti. He has written large-scale works but here some works for rather modest forces have been performed. They give a fairly good idea of what Perti was capable of, and it is not hard to understand that he was held in high esteem. This is also proven by the fact that a famous composer like Torelli was among his pupils and also Giovanni Battista Martini, who was to become one of the most respected theorists of the 18th century.

The performances are generally very good: the orchestra is playing very well, dynamic and colourful, and makes the most of the many moments where the instrumental parts illustrate elements in the text. The Sinfoniae avanti la Messa get bold performances. Most of the soloists are very good: the sopranos and the alto sing their parts very beautifully, and their voices blend very well. I am a little less enthusiastic about the bass, who is a bit too operatic and sometimes a little larmoyant. The choir is good but lacks clarity.

It has to be said, though, that the acoustics are not very favourable. The recording venue is probably a kind of concert hall which sounds as if it is rather small. Considering the fact that this music was written for San Petronio, which is famous - or should I say infamous - for its large reverberation, this does restrict a little the impact this music could have.

Having said that I'd like to underline my appreciation of this release, which shows the qualities of Perti as a composer of church music, and strongly recommend it.

Johan van Veen ( 2008)

CD Reviews