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Giovanni Antonio RIGATTI (1613 - 1648): "Motetti a voce sola per Soprano - Libro II"

Ensemble Estro Barocco

rec: Jan 20 - 23, 2017, Mondový, Chiesa di Santa Caterina
Urania Records - LDV 14034 (ę 2017) (53'54")
Liner-notes: E/I; lyrics - translations: I
Cover & track-list

Audite me; Beatus vir; Decantabat populus; Florete flores; Nec invenio; O Jesu, meum cor; Quasi cedrus; Sonent cytharae

Paola Roggero, soprano; CÚcile Peyrot, cello; Roberta Pregliasco, serpent; Ugo Nastrucci, theobo, guitar; Barbara Petrucci, harpsichord; Federico Demarchi, organ

Italian music from the first half of the 17th century does not exactly suffer from a lack of interest. In the field of vocal music Claudio Monteverdi attracts by far the most attention of performers, but in recent years the operas of Francesco Cavalli have become increasingly popular. Some of their contemporaries, such as Dario Castello, Biagio Marini and Giovanni Battista Fontana, frequently appear in the concert programmes and CD recordings of instrumental ensembles. The present disc includes music by a lesser-known master, Giovanni Antonio Rigatti, who is of the same generation as Cavalli.

Rigatti was born in Venice, became a choirboy at St Mark's in 1621 and was educated for a career in the church. From 1635 to 1637 he acted as maestro di cappella of Udine Cathedral. In 1639 he started teaching at the Ospedale dei Mendicanti and later also the Ospedale degli Incurabili. At the end of his life he became sottocanonico of St Mark's, but he died only after about fifteen months in office.

Rigatti published two collections of secular music, in 1636 and 1641 respectively. However, the largest part of his output comprises sacred music. In 1634 he published a collection of motets, which was followed by eight further editions; in addition compositions from his pen were included in anthologies. Most of his compositions include obbligato parts for instruments. A large part of his sacred oeuvre can be performed in various scorings, from a small group of voices and instruments to a large ensemble with a ripieno choir and additional instruments.

Rigatti was held in high esteem; it is telling that when he was appointed at Udine Cathedral his salary was twice that of his predecessor. In his sacred music he made use of all the devices a composer of the seconda prattica had at his disposal. The Messa e salmi parte concertati are ranked among the best of his oeuvre. The present disc focuses on a lesser-known edition: the Motetti a voce sola, libro II of 1647; the first book of solo motets dates from 1643. The second book includes sixteen motets: eight for soprano, five for alto, one for tenor and two for bass. However, in fact they can be sung by any voice: a performance at the higher or lower octave was quite common, and as the solo voice is accompanied by basso continuo alone, transpositions up and down are not a problem at all.

The collection is dedicated to Tomaso di Vettor Tasca, whose family were patrons of the Ospedale dei Mendicanti. However, Rigatti seems also to have been connected to the Ospedale della PietÓ, as in his preface Rigatti writes that many of his motets were performed by a certain Emilia, "very famous singer at the Ospale della PietÓ". One of the motets for alto was specifically written, at his request, for a singer of St Mark's. In this recording we hear the complete soprano motets.

I am a bit in two minds about this production. I'll try to explain my mixed feelings.

First, the music. Rigatti's solo motets are typical products of the monodic style which was such a dominant genre in the first half of the 17th century. These pieces are technically very demanding, and require a flexible voice with a wide tessitura. There are a number of moments when the text is depicted in the music. However, sometimes the application of a particular principle is in danger of going off the rails. I feel that this is the case here. Too often the written-out ornaments seem to be added for no particular reason. I also think that Rigatti sometimes exaggerates in his coloratura, for instance in his 'Alleluias', which close some of the motets. Some of them take more than a minute, and the performers then further extend them by adding their own ornaments. This is all a bit too much. I wonder whether it was a good idea to focus exclusively on this motet collection. A mixture of pieces in various scorings may have resulted in a musically more compelling production.

Secondly, the performance. I have nothing but admiration for the way Paola Roggero deals with the technical challenges of these motets. She moves easily through the entire range of these pieces, although her intonation is probably not always impeccable. Sometimes she has to explore the upper end of her tessitura, but that creates hardly any stress. Fortunately she avoids any unnecessary vibrato. The text is always clearly intelligible, which is not easy to achieve in such challenging pieces. However, she falls a little short in two aspects. Firstly, dynamically her singing is too uniform; she hardly makes use of the messa di voce, one of the main interpretational devices of a singer at the time, in the interest of text expression. The second aspect is closely connected to it: there is too little differentation in tempo and rhythm. A more declamatory approach would have made these performances more expressive. I also wonder whether a mixture of pieces for several voice types (alto, tenor and bass) would have had a positive effect.

The frontispiece of the printed edition indicates the line-up for the basso continuo: "Per cantare nell'Organo, Gravecimbalo, Tiorba, et altro Instromento". This leaves the interpreters much freedom, but that should be used within the boundaries of what is historically feasible. Although in Rigatti's time the guitar enjoyed some popularity in Italy, it is not obvious that it was used in sacred music. Even more questionable is the participation of a serpent. Its use in France in sacred music is documented, but there are no indications that it was known in Italy in Rigatti's time. That is admitted in the liner-notes, but "its adoption as a reinforcement of the bass line seemed particularly effective for its full and wrapping timbre (...)". That is not a good reason to ignore historical facts. The same goes for the participation of a cello: this instrument was unknown at the time, and a viola da gamba would have been a much more obvious option.

Lastly, the production standard is a bit disappointing. I am not impressed by the recording: the sound picture is rather narrow, and at first I had the impression that this was a mono recording. After a while I got used to it, but I am still unsatisfied with it. The booklet includes the lyrics, but omits English translations; the Italian translations won't help anyone who does not read Latin or Italian. The liner-notes are certainly interesting, but the English translation is so poor that they are sometimes completely unintelligible. The title of a note on the scoring of the basso continuo is indicative of the quality of the translations: "Comment on the continuous Bass orchestration".

Although I am happy with the fact that Rigatti's music is given attention through a disc entirely devoted to his music, I am not sure that this particular recording does him any real favour. I hope some day an ensemble will offer us a broader look at Rigatti's oeuvre.

Johan van Veen (ę 2018)

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