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Giovanni Maria NANINO (1544 - 1607): "Music for Four, Five and Eight Voices"

Gruppo Vocale Àrsi & Tèsi
Dir: Tony Corradini

rec: March 14, 15, 21 & Sept 27, 2015, Rome, Sapienza Università di Roma (Capella Universitaria della Sapienza)
Toccata Classics - TOCC 0235 (© 2016) (62'14")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594): Magnificat Erano capei d’oro VII toni a 5 [3]; Giovanni Maria NANINO: Dirige corda nostra a 8; Erano i capei d'oro a 5 [1]; Exultate Deo a 8; Haec dies a 5; Laetamini in Domino a 5 [2]; Magnificat VI toni a 4; Magnificat VII toni a 8; Missa a 8; Morir non può'l mio core a 5 [1]; Principes persecuti sunt a 5 [2]

Sources: [1] Giovanni Maria Nanino, Il primo libro de' madrigali, 1571?, 15792; [2] Orfeo Vecchi, ed., Scielta de madrigali a cinque voci de diversi eccel. musici, accommodati in motetti, 1604; [3] Orlandus Lassus, Iubilus beatae virginis, hoc est centum Magnificat, 1619

Monica Di Maria, Martina Loi, Valeria Villeggia, soprano; Francesca Del Bianchi, Silvia Elisabetta Pasquali Coluzzi, contralto; Andrés Montilla Acurero, alto; Antonio Orsini, Vincenzo Verrengia, tenor; Tony Corradini, David Maria Gentile, bass

Roman polyphony of the late 16th century is almost exclusively associated with Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, a towering figure who has - at least in modern times - overshadowed other composers of his time and of later representatives of the stile antico. That is also due to the fact that he was hailed as the great model of Catholic church music in the 19th century. Gregorio Allegri is one of the few who was able to establish himself in our time, albeit chiefly by only one work, the famous Miserere.

In the light of this, every attempt to shed light on composers that musicologists often label as 'minor masters' deserves to be welcomed. One of them is Giovanni Maria Nanino; one of the authors of the liner-notes to the present disc, Maurizio Pastori, has made special study of this composer who was highly appreciated in his time. The inclusion of a number of compositions from his pen in anthologies bears witness to that. Moreover, the programme ends with a setting of the Magnificat by Orlandus Lassus which is based on material from Nanino's madrigal Erano i capei d'oro, another token of his being appreciated by more famous contemporaries.

Nanino was born in Tivoli, north-east of Rome and was probably a pupil of Palestrina. From 1566 to 1568 he sang in the Cappella Giulia in the Vatican and was maestro di cappella in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (1569-1575) and the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi (1575-1577). In 1577 he entered the College of Papal Singers as a tenor; during the 30 years until his death he acted as magister cappellae for three years. From 1680 onwards compositions by Nanino were included in the repertoire of the papal chapel. He also acted as a teacher; among his pupils were Gregorio Allegri and Felice Anerio who were to become renowned composers.

The programme on this disc is a cross-section of Nanino's oeuvre. The Missa a 8 is one of three masses from his pen; one of them is lost, a second mass is based on Palestrina's best-known madrigal Vestiva i colli. This mass is for double choir and fits into Rome's own tradition of polychorality. In contrast to the cori spezzati practice in Venice where composers loved to score opposing choirs differently - for instance high versus low voices - both choirs here are for soprano, alto, tenor and bass. The cori spezzati technique is used in various ways. Sometimes a phrase in one choir is repeated in the other; in other cases the two choirs are both involved in the contrapuntal discourse or join each other in order to emphasize a word or phrase. In the same vein Nanino composed his Magnificat VII. toni, one of four Magnificats for eight voices. It is through-composed whereas his Magnificat VI. toni a 4 is divided into verses which are alternately sung in polyphony and in plainchant.

The madrigals are a particularly interesting part of the programme, especially as we hear two of them twice. Erano i capei d'oro and Morir non può'l mio core are from his first book of madrigals which was first published in Venice, probably in 1571; that edition has been lost but this book was reprinted no fewer than four times which attests to its popularity. Morir non può'l mio core was even included in an anthology which was printed in London in 1590. Both madrigals were then included in an anthology of madrigals adapted for ecclesiastical use which was published in Milan in 1604. The writing of new texts on pre-existing melodies was a widespread practice in the renaissance. It was a way to use music which was generally appreciated, for liturgical purposes. Such contrafacta can also be seen as a token of the popularity and the dissemination of the secular originals. Obviously they were mostly slightly adapted to the new texts. It seems unlikely that Nanino himself had his hand in these contrafacta. From the same collection Dirige corda nostra is taken, which is an adaptation of Nanino's madrigal Donne vaghe e leggiadre.

Haec dies and Exultate Deo are specimens of the genre of the motet; only one collection of motets by Nanino was published. They show the composer's ability to illustrate a text. The former is for five voices and organ; it is performed here a cappella. This is an aspect which performers have to deal with as it is not always clear whether the organ parts in sacred music are intended by the composer or added at a later date. After all, at the end of Nanino's career the modern style with basso continuo manifested itself. The Missa a 8 is also preserved with two organs parts. According to the liner-notes "these organ parts were probably introduced after Nanino, and so they were not used in the making of this recording." This probably explains the omission of the organ in Haec dies as well.

All the pieces in this recording are performed with one voice per part. That certainly is right in the case of the madrigals; this is chamber music. I am not so sure with regard to the sacred works; here a larger ensemble seems perfectly possible and that may even be more in line with what was common at the time, certainly in larger churches and chapels. The singing is satisfactory; the qualities of Nanino's music certainly come off. That said, this vocal ensemble is not top-notch. I noted some insecurities in several voices and some of them use a little too much vibrato. Those are the reasons that the ensemble is less than perfect.

That should not reduce the importance of this disc. It is the first entirely devoted to Nanino and all but two of the pieces in the programme are recorded here for the first time. Lovers of renaissance music should definitely investigate it.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

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