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Alessandro SCARLATTI & Antonio PANSINI: Music for Holy Week

[I] Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660 - 1725): "Responsories for Holy Week - Good Friday"
La Stagione Armonica
Dir: Sergio Balestracci
rec: Nov 1 - 4, 2018, Padua, Chiesa di San Gaetanoa; Nov 3, 2018, Padua, Chiesa di Santa Caterinab
deutsche harmonia mundi - 19075940772 (© 2020) (71'33")
Liner-notes: E/D/IT; lyrics - translations: E/D/IT
Cover & track-list

Responsori del Venerdě Santo (Omnes amici mei; Velum templi; Vinea mea; Tamquam ad latronem; Tenebrae factae sunt; Animam meam dilectam; Tradiderunt me; Jesum tradidit impius; Caligaverunt oculi mei)a
Ad Dominum cum tribularera; Caro meaa; Domine in auxilium meuma; Exaltabo te Dominea
Fuga XI per organob; Fugue in Cb; Fugue in d minorb; Toccata e fuga per organob

Federica Cazzaro, Stefania Cerutti, Sheila Rech, Silvia Toffano*, soprano; Laura Brugnera*, Ilaria Cosma, Viviana Giorgi, Marina Meo, contralto; David Barrios, Raffaele Giordani*, Alessandro Gargiulo, Stefano Palese, Gian-Luca Zoccatelli, tenor; Stefano Boni, Filippo Bordin, Alessandro Magagnin, Niocola Rampazzo*, bass; Carlo Steno Rossi, organ (solob) * versus

[II] Antonio PANSINI (1703 - 1791): "Officia in feria V et VI Maioris Hebdomadae"
Cappella Musicale Corradiana
Dir: Antonio Magarelli
rec: August 16 - 20, 2018, Molfetta, Chiesa parrocchiale di San Bernardino
DiG Classic - DCTT88 (© 2018) (53'24")
Liner-notes: IT; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

Feria VI in Parasceve: Ad Matutinam (In I Nocturno); Proprium et Ordinarium Missae in Coena Domini

Annamaria Bellocchio, Ester Facchini, soprano; Michele Dispoto, bass; Gioacchino de Padova, viola da gamba; Gaetano Magarelli, organ

Considering the importance of Lent and Passiontide in the liturgical calender of the Christian church, it is not surprising that many composers contributed to the repertoire for this time of the year. During Lent the seven penitential psalms were sung, but the commemoration of the Passion of Christ concentrated on Holy Week, the week before Easter. In the Christian church before the Reformation, and since then in the Roman Catholic Church, the heart of the Office for Holy Week are the Lamentations and the Responsories. The Lamentations of Jeremiah bemoan the destruction of Jerusalem and were used as metaphors for the passion and death of Christ. The Responsories deal more directly with this subject. Some refer to texts from those chapters in the Gospels which report about Jesus' Passion. The structure of the responsories is ABCB: first the two halves of the responsory are sung (AB), then the verse (C), which is followed by a repeat of the second half of the responsory (B). In the course of time a tradition established itself to extend six of the responsories with a final AB, following the liturgical pattern.

Considering their role in the liturgy, it does not surprise that quite a number of composers have set them to music. It is notable, though, that nearly all settings from the baroque era are from the pen of Italian composers. In France, although - like Italy - dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, no composer seems to have written anything of this kind. They rather focused on the Lamentations of Jeremiah, known as Leçons de Ténčbres.

Another interesting issue is that only a few composers seem to have set the entire music for the liturgy of these days: nearly all of them - at least as far as is known - have set either the Lamentations or the Responsories. The only exception that I know, is Tomás Luis de Victoria, who in 1585 published a collection of music for Holy Week, which includes Lamentations, Responsories as well as settings of the Passion narrative according to St Matthew and St John respectively. From that perspective the second disc reviewed here is remarkable, as it includes Lamentations and Responsories as well as a Mass setting. It makes sense to include them here, as Pansini was educated in Naples, where Alessandro Scarlatti also lived and worked a considerable part of his life.

In 2018, deutsche harmonia mundi released the recording of Scarlatti's Responsories for Holy Saturday. Last year, these were followed by the Responsories for Good Friday. However, their authenticity is not established, as they have come down to us in a copy which omits the name of the composer. They are part of a manuscript which is preserved in the Accademia Filarmonica di Bologna, which also includes some settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah as well as eleven 'motets for Lent', even though some of these are not intended for a performance during that time of the year. Not only are there no autographs, the scores are also partly incomplete, as sometimes the text is missing. Moreover, there are no indications of the solos in the verses and the figuring of the bass is very limited or even absent. However, as Sergio Balestracci points out in his liner-notes, there can be no doubt that Scarlatti did indeed compose Responsories for Holy Week. Giovanni Maria Casini (1652-1719), maestro di cappella of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, recalls, in his memoirs, a letter by Scarlatti in response to a commission to compose the music for performances in San Lorenzo during Lent and Holy Week. "[It] said 'Perhaps His Royal Highness will deign to accept the offer of this weak creation of my little ability in setting to Music the Sacred Motets, in the solid style of Palestrina... If this is found to be acceptable, the Responsories may find some support in the bass for the Organ, although I reckon that the voices alone seem to be more suited to the suffering of the Redeemer, who was unsupported, alone and betrayed'". Balestracci believes that the music recorded here is part of the composition to which Casini refers, also on the basis of other compositions by Scarlatti.

In the letter just quoted, Scarlatti expresses his preference for a performance without basso continuo. Even so, Balestracci opted for an organ accompament, whereas the motets are performed a capella. I would have preferred it the other way round. That said, the performances are very good, even though the text is not always as clearly intelligible as it should be. As so much sacred music by Italian composers of Scarlatti's time, these pieces are written in the stile antico, due to the rather negative attitude of the ecclesiastical authorities towards 'modern' music, which was associated with opera. However, despite Scarlatti's reference to Palestrina, his music is not devoid of text expression. A marked example is the setting of the phrase "and all the earth shook" (Velum templi scissum est). These passages come off well here. Some episodes are performed by solo voices, for instance Jesus's words in Tenebrae factae sunt.

The motets fit well into the programme, even though not all of them are connected to Passiontide or even Lent. Domine in auxilium (Make haste, o Lord, to help me) is a gradual for Whitsuntide. Caro mea vere est cibus (My flesh is meet indeed) is about the Eucharist, but not specifically connected to a particular time of the ecclesiastical year. Two motets are connected to Lent: the gradual Ad Dominum cum tribularer (In my trouble I cried to the Lord), and Exaltabo te, Domine (I will magnify thee, O Lord), an offertory for Ash Wednesday. The programme is extended by four nice organ works by Scarlatti, a part of his oeuvre which is rather little-known, but quite interesting.

Like the first disc, this new release deserves a strong recommendation: Scarlatti's music for Holy Week is of excellent quality and a meaningful addition of the repertoire for Passiontide.

The second disc includes music by a completely unknown quantity: Antonio Pansini. Only a few music lovers may have ever heard of him; the editors of New Grove are not among them, as he has no entry in this encyclopedia. Those who don't read Italian are left in the dark, as the booklet omits any translations of the liner-notes. The internet has also rather little to offer; Pansini is not discussed in Wikipedia, for example. Thanks to Amazon and the site of the label, I was able to gather at least some information about Pansini and his historical context.

Pansini was born in Molfetta, where he acted as organist from 1754 until his death. Before that he had studied in Naples; among his teachers were Francesco Durante and Leonardo Leo. His music for Holy Week probably dates from the 1740s, and was intended for performance in Molfetta. It was well received, as it was frequently performed during the second half of the 18th century. Even more remarkable is that performances are documented as late as the early 20th century. From that perspective, it is rather odd that he and his output have received so little interest in our time.

Apparently, Pansini wrote music for the entire Holy Week. The present disc offers a mass for Holy Thursday and three Lamentations and Responsories for Good Friday. It is notable that the mass does not only include the ordinary, but also the propers. It opens with the antiphon Nos autem and closes with Ubi caritas. It is scored for three voices (SSB) and basso continuo. It is dominated by homophony, and is divided in clearly separated phrases. Whether the caesuras between the phrases are indicated in the score or the result of an interpretational decision by Antonio Magarelli is impossible to decide.

The three Lamentations are for solo voice and basso continuo, the first and second for soprano - which are shared among the two sopranos in this performance - and the third for bass. They are rather short, and largely devoid of repeats. A few episodes have the character of a recitative. The Responsories are then for three voices and basso continuo. These pieces are quite expressive and they - together with the mass - make curious about other compositions by Pansini. It would be nice if more of his oeuvre would become available in recordings, and then accompanied by appropriate information about the composer and his oeuvre in English.

Even though this disc does not offer any information in English, I urge anyone interested in this kind of repertoire to investigate this disc. The interpretations are excellent. The singers deliver fine performances, and the chromatic episodes and dissonances come off to full extent, thanks to the 1/4 meantone temperament. The use of the historical organ in San Bernardino in Molfetta, built by Giuseppe Rubino in 1767, and restored in 2010 (with a pitch of a=399 Hz) is a nice and meaningful bonus.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

Cappella Musicale Corradiana

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