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Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660 - 1725)
Messa per il Natale, 1707

[Ad Introitum]
Bernardo PASQUINI (1637 - 1710)
Pastorale (organ) [04:49]
Alessandro SCARLATTI

Beata mater, motetto a 4 voci [04:22]

[Introito] Dominus dixit ad me [02:05]
Alessandro SCARLATTI

Kyrie [04:32]
Gloria [11:25]

[Prophetia] Lectio Epistolae beati Pauli Apostoli ad Titum [01:30]

[Canzon dopo l'Epistola] Fantasia (organ) [02:27]

Alleluia [02:22]
[Evangelium] In illo tempore: Exit edictum a Caesare Augusto [02:17]
Alessandro SCARLATTI

Credo [08:35]
[Ad Offertorium]

Ricercare (organ) [04:01]
O benedicte Jesu, motetto (alto a basso continuo) [06:58]
Alessandro SCARLATTI

Sanctus [01:37]

Benedictus [00:35]
Alessandro SCARLATTI/plainchant

Agnus Dei [02:42]
[Ad Communionem]

Canzona alla francese (organ) [01:27]
Francesco FOGGIA (1604-1688)

Congaudete jubilate, motetto per soprano, 2 violini e basso continuo [04:46]
[Ad Finem]

Ite missa est [00:46]

Toccata (organ) [01:52]
Ensemble vocale Festina Lente (Teresa Nesci, Roberta Giua, Monica Piccininni, soprano; Alessandro Carmignani, Gianluigi Ghiringhelli, alto; Gianluca Ferrarini, Fabio Furnari, tenor; Walter Testolin, Enrico Bava, bass)
I Musici di Santa Pelagia (Michele Balma Mion, Paola Nervi, violin; Daniele Bovo, cello; Roberto Bevilacqua, viola da gamba, double bass; Elena Cicinskaite, theorbo)
Schola Gregoriana; Maurizio Fornero, organ
Dir: Michele Gasbarro
Recorded in 2002/3 at the Imperia House Recording Studio, Italy
STRADIVARIUS STR 33646 [69:19]

Alessandro Scarlatti has become a very popular composer lately. Every year a number of recordings with his music are being released. Most of them contain oratorios, cantatas or instrumental works. In comparison his liturgical music has been given little attention. Here we find a Scarlatti who is in some ways very different from the composer of the oratorios and cantatas. He himself characterised his sacred music as written in 'lo stile sodo alla Palestrina', a solid style after Palestrina. The music on this disc is evidence of this. It is perhaps because of this 'old-fashioned' character that his liturgical music is considered less interesting. But this disc proves that, if performed well and presented in a proper context, this music can be just as beautiful and interesting as other parts of his oeuvre.

This mass setting by Alessandro Scarlatti is entitled 'Missa per il Natale per uso della Basilica di S. Maria Maggiore Del Sig. Alessandro Scarlatti xbre 1707'. It was thanks to Cardinal Ottoboni that Alessandro Scarlatti was appointed assistant chapelmaster in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome in 1703. But he never gave any attention to the job as he concentrated on composing operas for prince Ferdinando II de' Medici. But Ferdinando began to prefer the music of Giacomo Antonio Perti. It was Cardinal Ottoboni's influence again which resulted in Scarlatti being appointed chapelmaster of the basilica after the death of the then chapelmaster Francesco Foggia. Although the appointment took place in July 1707, it lasted until December of that year before Scarlatti started to take the post seriously. It seems the music on this disc is the first he composed for performance in the Santa Maria Maggiore.

The mass is written in two choirs, which were placed at both sides of the high altar. The first choir is in 5 parts, with two sopranos, the other has the traditional SATB scoring. In addition, there are two violin parts, and two identical parts for organ. There is also a paying list of musicians taking part in the performance, which shows that a cello was added to one of the organs. It was played by the then famous cellist Filippo Amadei, who was in the service of Cardinal Ottoboni. In this performance only one organ is used, although there are two organ parts. It is interesting to note that Alessandro Scarlatti's son Domenico was taking part in the performance. In the list of payments nothing is said about what role he played other than "being in the second choir". Is it too far-fetched to assume he was playing the organ part in the second choir?

The mass is performed here in a liturgical context. The Proper - consisting of texts which change in accordance with the character of the feast or Sunday or ferial day - is taken from the mass 'Ad Primam in Nocte Di Natale', and is sung in plainchant. So are some sections of the Ordinary, which Scarlatti either left out or have nor survived. From the Agnus Dei the supplication 'dona nobis pacem' has been left out by Scarlatty, which is in line with the tradition in this particular basilica: it has never been set to music in all masses written for this church from the 10th to the 18th century.

It was common practice in services in Italy in the 17th century to add motets and instrumental pieces. That is what has been done here. Alessandro Scarlatti's motet Beata mater is a perfect example of a piece written in the 'stile antico' and is set for four voices without accompaniment. If anywhere it is in this piece that one is reminded of the style of Palestrina. Although his mass setting is relatively old-fashioned, Scarlatti's setting is harmonically more adventurous than Palestrina's compositions, and contain more dissonances, in particular in the Credo, than Palestrina ever used.

Another composer featuring prominently in this recording is Bernardo Pasquini, who is mainly represented by organ pieces. He was first and foremost known as an organist and composer of keyboard music, and the teacher of the likes of Gasparini, Zipoli, Krieger and Muffat. He was strongly influenced by Frescobaldi, and even more by the works of Palestrina. Interestingly his solo motet recorded here is one of the most 'modern' of the entire programme.

This disc is a most eloquent plea in favour of Alessandro Scarlatti's sacred music, and also throws light on the liturgical practice in 17th-century Italy. In particular a liturgical 'reconstruction' like this is very helpful to understand the character and meaning of the music performed here. The ensembles give very fine performances throughout. The vocal ensemble contains some singers which are well-known in the Italian early music scene, like Monica Piccininni, Alessandro Carmignani and Walter Testolin. The solo motets are given outstanding interpretations by Teresa Necci and Alessandro Carmignani. Mauzirio Fornero does an excellent job in the organ pieces, and the plainchant is beautifully sung by the Schola Gregoriana.

Apparently the programme was recorded in a studio, but fortunately it has the right amount of reverberation as one may expect from the church, where the music was originally performed. The programme notes are informative, but it is disappointing that the texts of the Proper and the motets are only translated in Italian.

Johan van Veen



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