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"The Cardinal King - Music for Henry Benedict Stuart in Rome, 1740-91"

Cappella Fede; Harmonia Sacraa
Dir: Peter Leech

rec: June 9 - 11, 2015, Birmingham, Chapel of St Mary's College, Oscott
Toccata Classics - TOCC 0300 (© 2016) (73'20")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Sebastiano BOLIS (c1750-1804): Cinque Assulazione (Assoluzione I: Subvenite sancti; Assoluzione II: Qui Lazzarum resuscitasti; Assoluzione V: Libera me Domine); Jesu quaeritis Nazarenum; Laudate pueri Dominum; Letanie della Madonna Santissimaa; Misererea; Giovanni Battista COSTANZI (1704-1778): Ave Maria; Niccolò JOMMELLI (1714-1774): Oculi omnium; Carlo TESSARINI (1690-1766): Allettamento II (andante); Allettamento III; Giovanni ZAMBONI (fl c1740-1760): Feritevi, ferite; O come se' gentile; O memorie funeste; Splende fredda luna

Sources: Carlo Tessarini, Allettamenti da camera à violino solo, e violoncello, op. 3, 1740?

[CF] Elizabeth Dobbin, soprano; Tim Travers-Brown, alto; Simon Wall, tenor; Philip Tebb, bass; Hazel Brooks, violin; Jennifer Bullock, cello; Kate Aldridge, double bass; Martin Knizia, organ
[HS] Polly Beck, Zoë Maitland, Caroline Mayes, Rebecca Thurgur, soprano; Katherine Hatch-Morelli, Kate Lewis, Lisa Lewis, Adele Reynolds, contralto; Dominic Lee, Tim Saunders, Robert Tilson, tenor; Simon Francis, Richard Walters, Martin Warren, bass

"It is my belief that when all the surviving evidence of his wider cultural patronage is gathered, it will demonstrate not only that Henry was easily the equal of his illustrious, and more famous, forebear, Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, but also that Henry Benedict Stuart deserves to be ranked as one of the foremost patrons of his time in Europe." Thus Peter Leech concludes his liner-notes to the present disc with music for the 'Cardinal King'.

Who was he? Henry Benedict Thomas Edward Maria Clement Francis Xavier Stuart, Cardinal Duke of York, as his full name and title read, was the grandson of James II of England and VII of Scotland, who was disposed in 1688 during the Glorious Revolution. In 1715, his father, James Francis Edward Stuart, had attempted to regain the throne, but failed. He first went to France, where he lived in Avignon, which was then Papal territory. Pope Clement XI offered James the Palazzo del Re in Rome as his residence, which he accepted. He later moved to the Palazzo Muti, and here his son Henry Benedict was born in 1725. In 1745 the latter went to France to help his brother Charles Edward, known as 'Bonnie Prince Charles', to prepare the Jacobite rising of that year. After its defeat he returned to Italy. In 1747 Pope Benedict XIV created him Cardinal-Deacon, which was the start of a quick rise in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. In 1748 he was ordained priest, and that same year became Cardinal Priest of Santa Maria in Campitelli, a district in the centre of Rome. In 1761 he was made Cardinal-Bishop of Frascati. Here he lived for most of his life.

It seems that from the early 1740s Henry became associated with several composers, among them Giovanni Battista Costanzi. Little is known about him. He was born in Rome and worked there all his life as a cellist. He may have been a pupil of Giovanni Lorenzo Lulier (c1662-1700), also a professional cellist with the nickname of Giovannino del Violone. In 1721 Costanzi entered the service of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, one of the most important patrons of the arts in Rome in the first half of the 18th century. The Cardinal was also responsible for his being appointed maestro di cappella of several churches in Rome. He was also active as a teacher; one of his pupils was Luigi Boccherini. Costanzi also played at the court of the Stuarts. In his capacity as composer he wrote some music for his own instrument, but the largest part of his output comprises secular and sacred vocal music, including operas and oratorios. Among his liturgical music is the Ave Maria included here, which dates from around 1750, scored for soprano, alto, tenor and basso continuo. This is still a typically baroque piece, not unlike the secular duets written in the early 18th century, for instance by Agostino Steffani. It is dominated by counterpoint.

That is also the case with the four madrigals by Giovanni Zamboni, which date from around 1755. The form of the madrigal was a relic of the past; one of the last composers who wrote madrigals was Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725). The identity of the composer is a bit of a mystery. These four madrigals are part of a collection of 24, which the composer dedicated to Henry. They are scored for four voices and basso continuo. The composer makes use of madrigalisms, but in a new look. At the same time, these pieces show that counterpoint was not only something of the past, but was still used. That also comes to the fore in the motet Oculi omnium by Niccolò Jommelli. He has become almost exclusively known as a composer of music for the stage, but his oeuvre includes a large number of sacred works, both liturgical and extra-liturgical. In 1749 he had been appointed maestro coadiutore at St Peter's Basilica, "evidently with Henry's support", Leech writes. This motet must have been written at about that time. It is scored for four voices and basso continuo. Jommelli was often criticized for the theatrical features of his church music, but nothing of that is evident here.

Sebastiano Bolis is connected to the later stages of Henry's life. He was appointed maestro di cappella of San Lorenzo in 1778, as successor to Costanzi. In this position he served Henry for nearly twenty years. He is a completely unknown quantity, who is not mentioned in any music encyclopedia. His music has survived only in manuscript in a relatively small number of sources, among them the important Santini library in Münster (Germany). The pieces recorded here are stylistically different. Laudate pueri Dominum is probably the latest work, dating from 1791. It is an almost frivolous piece, which one - without knowing the text - could easily take for a secular work. The Miserere is a more substantial work, dating from 1790, and written in alternatim style, in which verses for soloists and/or tutti alternate with plainchant. The Letanie della Madonna Santissima is a mixture of polyphony and homophony, for solo voices and choir, with basso continuo. The disc opens with three of the five Assoluzzione, "a liturgy traditionally performed only at the funerals of ecclesiastical persons of the rank of Bishop or above" (booklet). These are almost entirely dominated by homophony, and scored for four voices and basso continuo.

The last composer in the programme is Carlo Tessarini. He worked in various places in Italy, then went abroad and lived for several years in the Netherlands. Tessarini gave private concerts of his own works in London, where he lived and worked between 1747 and 1750. In 1740 he was appointed first violin at the Teatro di Valle in Rome, but the death of Pope Clement XII meant, that the theatre closed on 6 February of that year. Also in 1740 he published a set of six Allettamenti da camera as his Op. 3. It was dedicated to Henry, who was just 15 years of age. These pieces are scored for violin and basso continuo, with a rather prominent role for the cello. The Attenamente III is in three movements in the order, which became increasingly common at the time: adagio, allegro, allegro.

These pieces receive an excellent performance from the players of the Cappella Fede: Hazel Brooks, Jennifer Bullock and Martin Knizia. The choir Harmonia Sacra participates only in two of Bolis' works, the Miserere and the Litanie. It is a fine ensemble of sixteen voices, which gives a good account of itself. The other pieces are performed by the four singers of Harmonia Sacra. They have nice voices, but the performances are a bit uneven and inconsistent. Sometimes they blend perfectly, but there are also moments, when the vibrato of some voices spoils the party. That is the case, for instance, in some of Zamboni's madrigals. In the opening episodes of the Letanie especially Tim Travers-Brown uses a rather wide and nervous vibrato, which is not nice to hear.

That said, we should be most thankful for this recording, as it includes almost exclusively first performances of music by composers, who deserve more attention. In the booklet Peter Leech writes that "further research into Bolis and his origins is underway". That is good news. Let's hope more music by him and from his time, written in Rome, will come to light.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Cappella Fede
Harmonia Sacra

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