> Marcello Psalms of David K617099 [JW]: Classical Music Reviews - April 2002 MusicWeb-International

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Benedetto MARCELLO (1686-1739)
Psalms of David

XVIII-21 Musique des Lumieres:
Cyrille Gerstenhaber, soprano, Hebrew Intonations
Christophe Laporte, alto
Herve Lamy, tenor
Laurent Grauer, bass
Freddy Eichelberger and Jean-Christophe Frisch, organ and harpsichord
Hager Hanana, cello
Claire Antononi, theorbo
Marc Wolff, theorbo and baroque guitar
Michel Renard and Charlotte Klingenberg, violas
Jean-Christophe Frisch, director
Recorded in the Church of Saint-Quirin, May 1999
K617099 [73.18]


Experience Classicsonline

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.

Jonathan Woolf


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