musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Italian sacred and instrumental music of the early 17th century

[I] "Il Pesarino"
Matthias Lucht, alto; Jrgen Banholzer, harpsichorda, organb
rec: June & Nov 2018, Mauerbach, Kartause Mauerbach (church)a & Valvasone, Duomo b
fra bernardo - fb 1909712 ( 2019) (69'15")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

Bartolomeo BARBARINO (?-after 1640): Audi, dulcis amica meaa [2]; Ave Regina coeloruma [2]; Paradisi Portea [2]; Regina coeli laetarea [2]; Sancta Maria, dulcis et piaa [2]; Giovanni Paolo CAPRIOLI (?-c1627): Congratulamini mihi omnesb [4]; Amadio FREDDI (1570-1634): Salve Reginaa [4]; Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): Bergamascab [5]; Toccata IV per l'organo da sonarsi alla levatione [6]; Giovanni GABRIELI (1557-1612): Canzon I La Spiritata (C 186)b [1]; Alessandro GRANDI (1586-1630): Gaudeamus omnesb [4]; Quam pulchra esb [4]; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Ego flos campi (SV 301) [3]; Pianto della Madonna (SV 22)a [7]; Michelangelo ROSSI (1602-1656): Toccata VIIb [8]; Giovanni ROVETTA (1595/97-1668): O Maria, quam pulchra esa [4]; Francesco USPER (1561-1641): Nativitas tua, Dei genitrixa [4]

Sources: [1] Girolamo Diruta, Il Transilvano, 1597; [2] Bartolomeo Barbarino, Il secondo libro delli motetti ... da cantarsi una voce sola, o in Soprano, o in Tenore, 1614; [3] Lorenzo Calvi, ed., Seconda raccolta de sacri canti, 1624; [4] Leonardo Simonetti, ed., Ghirlanda sacra scielta da diversi eccellentissimi compositori, 1625; Girolamo Frescobaldi, [5] Fiori musicali di diverse compositioni, 1635; [6] Il secondo libro di toccate, canzone, versi d'hinni, Magnificat, gagliarde, correnti et altre partite d'intavolatura di cembalo et organo, 1637; [7] Claudio Monteverdi, Selve morale e spirituale, 1640/41; [8] Michelangelo Rossi, Toccate e Corente, 1657

[II] "La Festa della Salute for the Deliverance from the Plague - Venezia 1631"
ecco la musica
Dir: Heike Hmmer, Matthias Sprinz
rec: Dec 9 -11, 2020, Waldenbuch, Ev. Stadtkirche St. Veit
Christophorus - CHR 77457 ( 2021) (74'30")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Bartolomeo BARBARINO (?-after 1640): Ave dulcissima Maria [2]; Antonio BERTALI (1605-1669): Sonata 2 violino viola da gamba con basso per organo; Dario CASTELLO (1602?-1631?): Sonata VI 2 sopran e trombon ovvero violetta [4]; Sonata XIV 4 doi soprani e doi tromboni overo violete [9]; Francesco CAVALLI (1602-1676): Cantate Domino [6]; Giovanni Paolo CIMA (c1575-1630): Sonata 4 [1]; Giovanni Battista FONTANA (c1589-c1631): Sonata II violino solo [12]; Alessandro GRANDI (c1586-1630): Salve Regina voce sola, con Sinfonia di doi Violini [7]; Tarquinio MERULA (1595-1665): Favus distillans 4 canto, con tre viole, overo tromboni [5]; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Confitebor tibi, Domine canto solo con violini (SV 193) [13]; Giovanni Battista RICCIO (c1570-1621): Sonata 4 [3]; Giovanni ROVETTA (c1596-1668): Canzon II 3 due violini o cornetti e trombone [8]; Giuseppe SCARANI (c1600-1674?): Sonata XVIII sopra La Novella due canti e basso [10]; Bartolomeo DE SELMA Y SALAVERDE (c1595-after 1638): Canzon 22 2 tenori [11]

Sources: [1] Giovanni Paolo Cima, Concerti Ecclesiastici una, due, tre, quattro voci, 1610; [2] Bartolomeo Barbarino, Il secondo libro delli motetti ... da cantarsi una voce sola, o in Soprano, o in Tenore, 1614; [3] Giovanni Battista Riccio, Il terzo libro delle divini lodi musicali, 1620; [4] Dario Castello, Sonate concertate in stil moderno, libro primo, 1621; [5] Tarquinio Merula, Il primo libro de motetti e sonate concertate due, tre, quattro, 1624; [6] Leonardo Simonetti, ed., Ghirlanda sacra scielta da diversi eccellentissimi compositori, 1625; [7] Alessandro Grandi, Motetti a una et due voci con sinfonie d'istrumenti, 1626; [8] Giovanni Rovetta, Salmi ... et alcune canzoni per sonar tre e quatro, 1626; [9] Dario Castello, Sonate concertate in stil moderno, libro secondo, 1629; [10] Giuseppe Scarani, Sonate concertate a due e tre voci, libro I, 1630; [11] Bartolomeo de Selma y Salaverde, Canzoni fantasie e correnti da suonar, 1638; [12] Giovanni Battista Fontana, Sonate 1, 2, 3 per il violino o cornetto, 1641; [13] Claudio Monteverdi, Messa a quattro voci et salmi una, due, tre, quattro, 1650

Gerlinde Smann, soprano; Anna Schall, cornett; Matthias Sprinz, sackbut; Andreas Pilger, violin, viola da braccio; Heike Hmmer, viola da gamba, lira da gamba; Andrea Baur, chitarrone; Christoph Lehmann, organ

A time of change is always interesting, and often - depending on where one stands - exciting. That certainly goes for the early decades of the 17th century in Italy, when the so-called seconda pratica was born. Composers of the time certainly felt that something interesting was taking place, and apparently there was also a large demand for 'new' music. This may well explain the many collections of vocal and instrumental music that were published at the time. It also explains why performers in our time are keen to explore what was produced by the likes of Monteverdi, Caccini, Grandi, Castello or Fontana, to mention just a few. However, as is so often the case, they tend to focus on a few collections and overlook many others. Too many discs with this kind of repertoire include the same pieces. From that angle any disc with different repertoire deserves to be welcomed.

The first disc of the two under review here is a good example. The programme includes a few familiar items, such as Monteverdi's Pianto della Madonna, and most of the keyboard pieces are also rather well-known. However, most vocal items are unfamiliar, and even the names of some of them may not immediately ring a bell with any lover of this kind of music. That certainly is the case with Bartolomeo Barbarino, who is the central figure in the programme that Matthias Lucht and Jrgen Banholzer recorded. The disc's title refers to him: For some years he was organist at Pesaro cathedral, which explains his nickname Il Pesarino.

One of the features of historical performance practice was the revival of the male alto, in the early stages usually called 'countertenor'. Singers with this type of voice started to sing in sacred music, but also in opera. Research has shown that it were rather castratos who dominated (Italian) opera. To what extent male altos (singing in their falsetto register) were active in sacred and secular music is probably hard to tell. The practice of castrating boys was due to a lack of singers who were able to sing soprano or alto with their natural voice. Interestingly, Barbarino was a natural male alto, and therefore Matthias Lucht's performances of his compositions can hardly be more 'authentic'.

Barbarino was a strong supporter of the monodic style, which was dominant in the first decades of the 17th century. Whereas other composers, such as Monteverdi, mixed the modern style with the stile antico, Barbarino composed exclusively in the modern style for solo voice(s) and basso continuo. His oeuvre includes two collections of solo motets and six collections of secular pieces for one to three voices and basso continuo. Alessandro Grandi was another composer who wrote a large amount of music for solo voices. This was partly due to the circumstances, as he was in the service of St Mark's in Venice, but Monteverdi did not give him much opportunities to write large-scale pieces for the liturgy. Grandi turned to the writing of solo motets instead. His contributions to this genre are top of the bill. Some of them are quite popular with performers, but fortunately Lucht selected some lesser-known pieces.

A number of pieces are taken from a collection of solo motets, published in 1625 under the title of Ghirlanda Sacra. It was printed in Venice and edited by Leonardo Simonetti, a castrato singer at St Mark's since 1613. This explains why many pieces refer to the veneration of the Virgin Mary, as she was one of the city's patron saints. The collection includes many pieces by composers who hardly appear on concert programmes and in recordings, such as Amadio Freddi and Giovanni Paolo Caprioli. Giovanni Rovetta is a little better-known and Francesco Usper is best-known for his instrumental music.

Matthias Lucht has a very beautiful voice and knows what it takes to bring this repertoire to life. Especially his use of dynamics - in particular the messa di voce - is a most welcome feature of his performances. He also has a good feeling for the content of the pieces, and is well aware of their affetti. However, I think he is a little too strict in the treatment of rhythm. He could have taken more freedom in this department, and especially Monteverdi's Pianto della Madonna could have been performed in a more declamatory manner. Jrgen Banholzer is an excellent accompanist and contributes some fine solo pieces, which take full advantage of the fact that here two Italian instruments are used: the copy of a Grimaldi harpsichord of 1697 and a historical organ by Vincenzo Colombi (1532/33).

If one looks at the years of death of Italian composers from the first decades of the 17th century, the years 1630 and 1631 are mentioned several times. It was the time that northern Italy, and in particular the Veneto, was struck by the plague. Alessandro Grandi and Giovanni Paolo Cima among those who are known to have died of the plague, in Bergamo and Milan respectively. Other possible victims were Giovanni Battista Fontana and Dario Castello. All of them figure in a programme recorded by the ensemble ecco la musica, which focuses on the festivities that took place to celebrate the end of the epidemic. On 22 October 1630 the Doge Nicol Cantarini decided to dedicate a church to the Virgin Mary should the city be freed from the plague. He did not live long enough to see that happening, as he himself became one of the epidemic's victims. Due to financial problems, the Santa Maria della Salute was consecrated as late as 1687.

However, on 21 November 1631 the first service of thanksgiving was held, which was repeated every year since. Part of the Festa della Salute was a procession to the location where the church of Santa Maria della Salute should arise. Obviously music was an integral part of the festivities, but although it is documented that Monteverdi composed a mass to be performed at St Mark's, nothing is known for sure about what was actually performed. So what we get here is a survey of the musical landscape in northern Italy around 1630. We hear music by composers who were victims of the plague, as well as music of the past which was still performed, and music by representatives of a younger generation, which partly reflects a development to a new era in musical style.

The vocal part of this disc is the most interesting, as it includes mostly pieces that are little-known. The exception is Monteverdi's Confitebor tibi Domine, taken from the last collection of his music that was printed (posthumously in 1650). Francesco Cavalli's Cantate Domino is included in the above-mentioned collection Ghirlanda Sacra. The disc ends with another piece by Bartolomeo Barbarino. The instrumental part is a little more predictable, which is inevitable, given the theme of this disc. The oeuvre of the likes of Fontana, Castello and Fontana is thoroughly explored and available in quite some recordings. However, not every performance is the same, as composers often left the choice of instrument to the performers. A sonata that is performed with cornett and violin in one recording, may be played on two cornetts or two violins in another. The lower parts can often also be performed on different instruments, for instance the dulcian or the sackbut. The pieces included here attest to the level of playing at the time. Even the lower instruments just mentioned, which in the 16th century were almost exclusively used in an accompanying role, were given technically demanding solo parts. Rovetta's Canzon II 3 is a good example of a piece with a virtuosic part for sackbut.

One may have different opinions on the line-up in some pieces. Bartolomeo de Selma y Salverde, for instance, was a dulcian player by profession, and therefore a performance of his Canzon 22 with sackbut and viola da gamba may seem a little less than obvious. Monteverdi's Confitebor tibi Domine is usually played with two violins; here we get violin and cornett, and I find that a little unlucky. However, overall the choices of instruments are musically convincing. The playing is excellent throughout, and every player shows an impressive command of his instrument. It was a great idea to invite Gerlinde Smann to perform the vocal items. She has a lovely voice, and both in the field of ornamentation and that of dynamics she does the right things. Her contributions are one of the attractions of this disc.

However, it is the music that never stops to fascinate. It was an exciting time indeed, and even if one has a number of recordings of this kind of repertoire in one's collection, this one should find a place in it as well.

Johan van Veen ( 2022)

Relevant links:

Matthias Lucht
ecco la musica

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