Marcello was a politician and lawyer and not
a professional musician. A dilettante in the formal meaning
of the word he was also a musical antiquarian and saw in Jewish
music the living trace material of the music of the Ancients.
To that extent his position was aesthetic and in many ways anti-modern.
In his preface to the Estro Poetico Armonico Parafresi sopri
li salmi, a widely disseminated text, and a collection of
fifty of his psalms, he inveighs against contemporary compositional
trends – polyphony, startling modulations, baroque indulgence,
which he clearly considered as inimical to the monodic tradition
he was himself trying to revivify, uphold and evoke.
To this extent then Marcello’s music differed
from that of his contemporaries – he kept decorative elements
to a minimum, the text was dominant, ornaments were limited
and solemnity was elevated at the expense of what he could only
have seen as instrumental or polyphonic frivolity. That Marcello
wasn’t entirely prescriptive can be seen from his use of a small
instrumental ensemble – he claimed that instruments weren’t
always banished from the Temple and pragmatically perhaps he
integrated the band with no little skill.
Psalm XX1 features a male alto, Christophe
Laporte, whom we would call a counter-tenor, but whose voice
has distinctive qualities of a high tenore. He is a musical
singer, without, it’s true, much of a trill. The Largo Assai
has a rather repetitive continuo line, obsessive rather thick
and overemphatic whilst the Recitativo adagio is a dramatic
recitative with some oddly operatic flourishes, constantly alive
to the text and concentratedly expressive. This section contrasts
wildly with the succeeding recitative, with its immediate lightening
of texture and with Laporte’s softened tone and pliancy of tone
production emphasising the emotive conjunctions of the text.
I did find the organ registrations in the Tempo giusto somewhat
troubling – lurid, in a word though I did admire the "antique"
contribution of the continuo group. There are some intriguing
sonorities scattered through the Psalm setting, non legato and
piquant. Again though I was concerned by the Interludio
passage – what is the historical evidence for these interpolations
or are they merely speculative?
Psalm XIV receives a setting shorter, less
intense and significantly more conventional. Soprano Cyrille
Gerstenhaber makes a fine showing here as she does when she
joins her colleagues for the setting of Psalm X. this is an
altogether more imaginative work with some dramatic solo lines,
interjectory rhetoric, some continuo staccato and fugal pretensions,
heavily resisted. The Largo, track 35, is especially
attractive with its heavily rolled consonants from all four
singers, Cyrille Gerstenhaber singing powerfully but expressively
over the ensemble. We can certainly hear the distinctive disparity
of voice types here – this is certainly not a beautifully blended
and perfumed vocal quartet but is a collective of individual
voices pursuing their individual lines. Elsewhere there is the
instrumental Chaconne, increasingly dramatic and headstrong
and the organ’s flourishes are perhaps a rhetorical gesture
too far, at least for my taste.
These are more than merely antiquarian performances.
They contain things that are speculative but also much that
is thought-provoking and unusual. Notes are excellent, with
texts and translations in three languages though one page of
text seems to have gone astray and is blank.