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"Sacred Liturgy in Bologna"

San Pietro Ensemble

rec: August & Sept 2020, Borgio Capanne (Alto Reno Terme, Bologna), Parrocchia di San Giovanni Battista
Urania Records - LDV 14069 (© 2021) (75'50")
Liner-notes: E/I; lyrics - no translations
Cover, track-list & booklet

Ferdinando BERTONI (1725-1813): Messa a 4 voci; Pietro Giuseppe Gaetano BONI (?-1750): Sonata per l'elevazionea; Giuseppe Maria CARRETTI (1690-1774): Miserere mei, Deus a 2; Benedetto DONELLI (1782-1839): Pastoralea; Ignazio FONTANA (1752-1820): 1a Lamentazione del Venerdì Santo a basso solo; Niccolò JOMMELLI (1714-1774): Graduale, Alleluia & Sequenza pel giorno di Pentecoste a 4; Giovanni Battista MARTINI (1705-1784): Toccata I in Ca; Toccata III in Ca; Toccata IV in Ca; Toccata VII in Ca; Toccata XXII in d minora; Antonio MAZZONI (1717-1785): XIIa Profezia del Sabbato Sancto à tenore solo; Hinno a San Petronio (Ut via coelum facili teneres); Giacomo Antonio PERTI (1661-1756): Tantum ergo a 4; plainchant: Alme et confessor, graduale; Gaude mater ecclesiae, graduale; Gloria et divitie, graduale; Missa IX Cum jubilo (Sanctus; Benedictus & Hosanna; Agnus Dei); Sacrificium Deo, offertorio

Alice Fraccari, soprano; Angela Troilo, contralto; Paolo Davolio, tenor; Giacomo Contro, baritone; Silvia De Rosso, violone; Antonio De Luigi, theorbo, guitar; Francesco Righini, organ (soloa)
[schola] Antonio Bitella, Davide Carollo, Antonio Lorenzoni, Gaspare Valli

Throughout history, Bologna has been one of the intellectual and cultural centres of Italy. In musical matters, it flourished especially in the 17th and 18th centuries, although today the 17th century attracts most of the attention. At that time, a large repertoire for strings came into existence, connected to one of the city's main institutions, the Basilica of San Petronio, dedicated to the city's patron, Saint Petronius, who was bishop of Bologna until his death around 450. It was also in Bologna that the trumpet was developed into one of the main wind instruments. Bologna was also the birthplace of the instrument we now know as the cello. A second important musical institution was the Accademia Filarmonica; its membership was a token of a composer's status and reputation.

As far as the music written in Bologna is concerned, it is mainly the repertoire of the late 17th century that is performed and recorded in our time. One of the best-known composers of sacred music is Giacomo Antonio Perti, who was maestro di capella of San Petronio from 1696 until his death. From that perspective, the disc under review here is partiularly interesting in that Perti is represented with one piece, but most of the programme consists of works by composers of later generations, which are hardly known today.

The programme is largely divided into four sections. It opens with a Pastorale, representing Christmastide. Benedetto Donelli was organist and vice-maestro di cappella at San Petronio. The Pastorale shares the features of most pieces of this kind: it has the rhythm of a siciliano (here that is confined to the first section), and the left hand plays a drone most of the time. It is followed by a setting by Perti of Tantum ergo, the last two verses of the medieval hymn Pange lingua. It is sung during the veneration and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

The second section is devoted to music for Passiontide. It opens with a setting of the Miserere, one of the seven penitential psalms, by Giuseppe Maria Carretti, who succeeded Perti as maestro di cappella at San Petronio after the latter's death. It is an alternatim setting: verses in plainchant alternate with verses for two voices (tenor and bass) and basso continup. As in most pieces on this disc, the setting is largely homophonic. Part of the music for Holy Week were also the Lamentations of Jeremiah. One of the 'lessons' is included here in a setting by Ignazio Fontana, who occupied the position of maestro di cappella at San Pietro. It is largely through-composed, without a marked division into verses, and has a strongly operatic character. It closes with a cadenza. The next piece is called XIIa Profezia del Sabbato Sancto, written by Antonio Mazzoni, who was maestro di cappella at San Pietro from 1759 until his death. The prophesies - readings from the Old Testament - are a little-known part of the liturgy of Holy Saturday. This particular reading is from the Book of Daniel, which tells the story of Daniel's three friends who refuse to worship the statue that Nebuchadnezar has erected for himself. They are thrown into a fiery furnace, where they sing the praise of God. The end of the story - they are not harmed by the fire, due to the protection by an angel - is not included, as they have to be the prefiguration of Christ, being sacrificed at the Cross. This episode is set for solo voice (tenor) and basso continuo; it consists of a sequence of recitatives and ariosi, unfortunately not visible in the booklet.

The third section comprises pieces for Whitsun: a gradual, an alleluia and a sequence by Niccolò Jommelli, who never occupied any position in Bologna, but frequently visited the city between 1740 and 1750 to attend performances of works for the stage from his pen and to study with 'Padre' Giovanni Battista Martini. The gradual includes a virtuosic solo part for soprano. The Alleluia is repeated after the sequence. As all the pieces on this disc are taken from the Fondo Musicale del Capitolo della Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Pietro, there can be no doubt that these pieces have been performed in Bologna.

The same goes for the Messa a 4 voci e basso continuo by Ferdinando Bertoni, who was organist at St Mark's in Venice from 1752 onwards and succeeded Baldassare Galuppi as maestro di cappella there in 1785. However, he had close ties with Bologna: he was a pupil of Padre Martini and his operas were performed in Bologna. The manuscript of this mass does not indicate for which occasion it was written, but it is assumed it was performed in San Pietro during a service dedicated to Saint Petronius. Apparently, it comprises only Kyrie, Gloria and Credo as the remaining sections are performed in an alternation of plainchant and toccatas by Padre Martini. Assuming that the latter are performed here complete, they are obviously intended for liturgical use, as they are very short. The programme closes with a hymn for Saint Petronius by Mazzoni.

This is a compelling disc, not because it includes masterworks, but because we get here an insight into the common liturgical practice in Bologna from a time, whose music is hardly known. For me, the highlights are the pieces by Fontana, Mazzoni and Jommelli. Here we also get a good impression of the qualities of some of the members of the ensemble. Paolo Davolio's performance on Mazzoni's XIIa Profezia is particularly impressive. The ensemble is also very good. A special asset of this disc is that the basso continuo is performed on a large organ from the time that the music was written. Its typical Italian colours are a substantial contribution to the impact of these performances.

There are a couple of issues, though. First, the plainchant receives good performances, but the sound of the schola in Carretti's Miserere is rather dull, which may be due to the recording (because of logistics?). Second, the booklet omits English translations, and the English translation of the liner-notes is rather poor. These notes are very concise; considering that most composers are unknown quantities, more extensive liner-notes, with a little more information about the composers, would not have been amiss.

Even so, this is a nice disc to have, perfectly suited to broaden your musical horizon.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

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