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Francesco GIOVANNINI (1709/11 - 1775): Messa Quattro Breve Concertata, 1762

Cappella Musicale di Santa Maria in Campitelli
Nicola Lamon, organa
Dir: Vincenzo Di Betta

rec: July 2018, Rome, Chiesa di Sant'Ambrogio della Massima
Tactus - TC 700703 ( 2022) (63'18")
Liner-notes: E/IT; no lyrics
Cover & track-list

Francesco GIOVANNINI: A Domino factum est; Ave Regina coelorum; Messa a 4 voci concertati; Oculi omnium; Qui pacem ponit; Bernardo PASQUINI (1637-1710): Ricercar del 2 tonoa; Tastata per Milonea; Domenico ZIPOLI (1688-1726): Canzona in Ca; Verso in Fa

Giorgio Bruno, Antonia Harper, Giulia Manzini, Francesca Merlo, Paola Ronchietti, soprano; Antonello Dorigo, Margarita Golgovskaia, Rossella Mirabelli, Anita Rufini, Salvatore Saracino, contralto; Massimo Bisson, Alessandro Lanzi, Federico Marcucci, Renato Moro, tenor; Giacomo Balla, Matteo Carcovic, Andrea Robino Rizzet, Maurizio Trabucco, bass
Ulrike Pranter, cello; Indiana Raffaelli, double bass; Stan Adams, trombone; Luca Ambrosio, harpsichord
[schola] Massimo Bisson, Mauro Marcucci, Leonardo Malara, Alessio Pacchiarotti, Raimundo Pereira

This is a rather curious disc: the main work is a mass dating from 1762, which is performed in a liturgical framework that comprises organ music of the 17th century and 'neo gregorian' chants from the 20th century.

Francesco Giovannini is an almost completely unknown quantity. He has no entry in New Grove and on the internet hardly any information about him is available. Therefore we have to rely on what is revealed in the liner-notes. He was born in Rome between 1709 and 1711 into an affluent family. Both his mother and an aunt were closely affiliated with the Order of the Mother of God, and this explains why he entered this order at a young age in 1726. He spent two years in Naples, and then returned to Rome where he dedicated himself to the study of music and learned to play the organ. For many years he acted as organist of the church in Campitelli, a neighbourhood in Rome. In 1751 he was appointed music master of the church; he held this position until at least 1761. In the archives of the Order of the Mother of God the latest compositions by Giovannini are dated 1767. From 1770 he suffered from bad health and was substituted as organist. In July 1775 he died in Rome.

Among the compositions of Giovannini are two Passions, a litany, two masses as well as motets for one to three voices and basso continuo or organ. They are written in the galant idiom which was in vogue in his time. They are mostly homophonic. The mass performed here is scored for four voices and basso continuo, and includes episodes for solo voices. The motets show the influence of contemporary opera in that they include quite some coloratura. Qui pacem ponit is a telling example, as here the entire range of the soprano is explored, and the piece ends with a cadenza.

It was a good idea to perform this mass within a liturgical framework, "to allow us to live the sonorous experience of an ancient mass of the Roman rite", as Massimo Bisson states in the booklet. However, it is a bit of a mystery why this mass is performed in the context of a solemn mass for the feast day dedicated to San Giovanni Leonardi, the founder of the Order of the Clerics Regular. He was only beatified in 1861 and canonized in 1938. This means that no chants for this feast day from Giovannini's time are available. The first chants are included in the Graduale Romanum of 1871. The chants performed here date from the time after Leonardo's canonization. That was a time that chants from the time of his beatification were given new melodies based on medieval plainchant. These are mostly derived from existing material. This explains why the Gregorian melodies sung here sound very old rather than reflect the style of the 19th or 20th centuries.

The liturgical framework also includes organ works from the 17th century. Some are from the pen of Bernardo Pasquini, who played a key role in Roman musical life and enjoyed the patronage of Queen Christina of Sweden and the Cardinals Orroboni and Pamphili. He regularly worked together with Arcangelo Corelli who also was the leader of the orchestra in a performance of one of Pasquini's operas. He wrote a considerable number of vocal works, especially operas and oratorios. Unfortunately most of the latter are lost. He is almost exclusively known for his keyboard music; he was considered the main organist in Italy after the death of Girolamo Frescobaldi. Domenico Zipoli is also mainly known for his keyboard works. He was a pupil of Pasquini, and in 1716 he settled in Argentina. The organ works by these two composers are of fine quality and very well played here, but in this framework they sound rather out of place.

The question, then, is whether Giovannini is a name to remember. It is not fair to assess a composer on the basis of just one recording. A mass does not give much opportunity for text expression, and that makes the motets the best material to find out what Giovannini does with a text. Unfortunately, the booklet omits the lyrics. They should be available on the Tactus website, but - like in previous cases - they are nowhere to find. Musically speaking the mass did not really impress me; I have not heard anything that catches the ear. It is nice to listen to, but does not make a lasting impression. I found the motets more interesting, and I would like to hear more of them. The fact that Giovannini has written two Passions is quite intriguing, especially as such works - at least Passions based on the Gospels, as both of them are - were rather rare in his time. I certainly would like to hear them.

My reservations are not due to the performances. I like what I have heard here from the choir, whose members give a good account of themselves in the motets. This disc is an interesting addition to the discography anyway, as Italian sacred music from the second half of the 18th century is not that often performed or recorded. In particular those who have a special interest in liturgical music should investigate this disc.

Johan van Veen ( 2023)

Relevant links:

Cappella Musicale di Santa Maria in Campitelli

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