musica Dei donum

Concert reviews

"From Venice to Vienna - Marian motets and sonatas"

Scorpio Collectief/Simen Van Mechelen
concert: May 10, 2011, Utrecht, Vredenburg Leeuwenbergh

Antonio BERTALI (1605-1669): Sonata IV; Heinrich Ignaz Franz VON BIBER (1644-1704): Sonata à 3; Marco Antonio FERRO (?-1662): Sonata XI à 4; Johann Joseph FUX (1660-1741): Alma redemptoris mater; Alessandro GRANDI (1586-1630): Virgo prudentissima; Tarquinio MERULA (1594-1665): Canzonetta spirituale sopra alla nanna; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Pianto della Madonna; Luigi ROSSI (1597?-1653): Salve Regina (after Lamento d'Euridice); Giovanni Felice SANCES (1600-1679): Ardet cor meum; Ave maris stella; O quam speciosa; Johann THEILE (1646-1724): Schlaf, ich will dich sanfte wiegen

Monika Mauch, soprano; Josué Meléndez, cornett; Simen Van Mechelen, sackbut; Veronika Skuplik, violin; Paulina van Laarhoven, viola da gamba, lirone; Thomas Boysen, theorbo, guitar; Kris Verhelst, harpsichord, organ

The emergence of the stile nuovo around 1600 in Italy caused a revolution in music. For the first time music for solo voices with instrumental accompaniment was written. In addition instruments like the violin and the recorder, which were mostly used in dance music, were given solo pieces to play, like canzonas and sonatas. And the cornett and the sackbut, which during the era of the stile antico had a largely supporting role in sacred music, were also treated like solo instruments. And lastly, instrumental parts - in particular for the violin - were becoming more idiomatic, and both vocal and instrumental parts became considerably more virtuosic.

Several of these features came together in a series of concerts by the ensemble Scorpio Collectief which took place in the Netherlands in early May. The way the programme had been put together made much sense. The new style quickly disseminated from Italy to other parts of Europe. Vienna was especially responsive to the new musical fashion, and soon the leading musical positions at the imperial court were firm in the hands of Italians. One of them was Antonio Bertali, whose Sonata IV is scored for violin, sackbut, viola da gamba and bc. Violin, cornett, sackbut and bc is the scoring of the Sonata XI à 4 by Marco Antonio Ferro, who worked as lutenist at the court. The Italian style was also adopted by non-Italians, like Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, of whom a Sonata à 3 was performed.

In addition to instrumental music a number of vocal pieces were performed. Here the thread was the veneration of the virgin Mary which had its origins in the Middle Ages. Composers of the early baroque were only too happy to set Marian texts to music. Their emphasis on expression of the text with musical means ideally fit in with the often exalted character of these texts. Some fine examples were performed, like Virgo prudentissima by Alessandro Grandi, who worked at San Marco under Monteverdi and is still in his shadow. Quite different in character is Ave maris stella by Giovanni Felice Sances, a dance-like piece which ended the programme.

Quite famous is the Canzonetta spirituale sopra alla nanna by Tarquinio Merula. It is a rather long piece which basically is a lullaby but with a dark edge, as every stanza also refers to the passion which awaits the godly child. The passion is also the subject of the Pianto della Madonna by Claudio Monteverdi. Here the composer has set a new text to the music he had written before for the Lamento d'Arianna from his opera Arianna which is now lost. This is an example of a contrafact in which a new text is used for existing music. The ensemble followed Monteverdi's example and set the text of the Salve Regina to the music Luigi Rossi had composed for his Lamento d'Euridice. The Italian monodic style in vocal music also spread over Europe, as the lullaby Schlaf, ich will dich sanfte wiegen by Johann Theile showed. As he worked in northern Germany this sacred concerto was out of step with the programme. But it is a very nice piece; that is a good excuse. The inclusion of Alma redemptoris mater by Johann Joseph Fux may surprise, considering the time he worked in Vienna. In many ways musical fashion had changed considerably but he was a rather conservative composer who also used instruments which were already out of fashion in his days.

The programme was musically compelling, not only because of the quality of the pieces which were selected, but also thanks to the excellent performances. The soprano Monika Mauch delivered some spell-binding interpretations. Merula's Canzonetta spirituale was performed in a very subtle and highly expressive way, with delicate support from the ensemble. Monteverdi's Pianto della Madonna, on the other hand, received a strongly dramatic interpretation in which the text was graphically expressed. The other vocal items were also given fine performances.

The Pianto della Madonna opened with an instrumental performance of the first section of the five-part version Monteverdi wrote on the text of the Lamento d'Arianna. In my view this was a less happy decision as I felt the instrumental performance just didn't work very well. Much better was the instrumental performance of the sacred concerto O quam speciosa by Sances. The instrumentalists all made a strong impression, and in particular the performances on such technically demanding instruments as the cornett and the sackbut were impressive, the more so because some of the parts they had to play were quite virtuosic. The lirone gave a special colour to some of the pieces in the programme.

The Scorpio Collectief was founded in 2009, and I heard it here for the first time. It is a great asset for the early music scene, and I hope to hear it again in times to come.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Concert reviews