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Early Music

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Alessandro GRANDI (1577 - 1630)
Vulnerasti cor meum: Sacred music by Alessandro Grandi

O quam tu pulchra es (Il primo libro Motetti, Venice 1610)
In lectulo meo (Motetti a voce sola, Venice 1621)
Versa est (Motetti a cinque voci, Ferrara 1614)
Salve Regina (Motetti con Sinfonie d'Istromenti, Venice 1621)
Quemadmodum desiderat (Il sesto libro de Motetti, Venice, 1630)
O intemerata (Motetti a voce sola, Venice 1621)
Osculetur me (Motetti con Sinfonie d'Istromenti, Venice 1621)
Ave Regina (Motetti a cinque voci, Ferrara 1614)
Bone Jesu verbum patris (Motetti con Sinfonie d'Istromenti, Venice 1621)
Missus est Gabriel - Dialogo (Il primo libro Motetti, Venice 1610)
Virgo prudentissima (Motetti con Sinfonie di due violini, lib.3, Venice 1629)
O quam tu pulchra es (Sammeldruck: Ghirlanda sacra, Venice 1625)
Domine ne in fuore (Il sesto libro di Motetti, Venice 1630)
Vulnerasti cor meum (Motetti con Sinfonie d'Istromenti, Venice 1621)
Heu mihi - Quid ploras - Dialogo (Il secondo libro de motetti, Venice 1613, 4th edition Venice 1623)
Transfige (Motetti con Sinfonie d'Istromenti, Venice 1621)
Plorabo die ac nocte (Il quarto libro de Motetti Venedic 1616)
Schola Cantorum Basiliensis
(Elisabeth Scholl, Maria Cristina Kiehr - Sopranos, René Jacobs, Andreas Scholl - Altos, Gerd Türk, Otto Rastbichler - Tenors, Ulrich Messthaler - Bass,
Brigitte Täubl, Minna Arkkola - Violins, Jean Tubery, William Dongois - Cornets,
Gottfried Bach- Organ, Friederike Heumann - Renaissance viola da gamba, Karl-Ernst Schröder - Chitarrone)
Director: René Jacobs
Recorded 4-7 November 1991, Katholische Kirche Seewen, Kanton Solothurn (CH)
DEUTSCHES HARMONIA MUNDI Baroque Esprit 05472 77857 2 [72.00]


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Alessandro Grandi might have been a pupil of Giovanni Gabrieli. He spent the initial part of his musical career singing (falsetto soprano) and directing music at establishments in Ferrara, culminating in his appointment as director of music at Ferrara cathedral in 1616. In 1617 he moved to Venice and became a singer, under Monteverdi's direction, at St. Mark's, going on to become Monteverdi's deputy in 1620. He and Monteverdi are reputed to have been in open rivalry and Monteverdi is supposed to have prevented Grandi from presenting large-scale works of his own. Grandi seems to have made a virtue of necessity and produced a ravishing string of solo motets and concerti spirituali. In 1627 he moved on to become director of music in Bergamo. He published 11 volumes of motets, many of them very popular, 3 volumes of psalms and 5 masses. His motets with symphonies, involving obbligato violins, had an influence on Schütz.

In the 1620's sacred music underwent a significant change, out went the polychoral techniques of the Gabrielis and in came the new concerted style. A more intimate style with a few solo voices and instruments, with a greater emphasis on virtuosity. Monteverdi used this style in his later church music, but it was fully developed by his colleagues and followers such as Alessandro Grandi.

Grandi had an advantage over colleagues such as Monteverdi and Gabrieli in that he was a singer. His art revolves around the expression of the text, using the music to bring out the prosody of the words. His earliest motets were published in 1610 and they are admirably lacking in youthful inexperience. 'O quam pulchra es' uses three voices in an almost madrigalian setting of words from the Song of Songs.

Grandi's works crop up in the catalogue mainly in surveys of Monteverdi's contemporaries. Despite his importance in early 17th century Italian music, record companies have mainly cast him in Monteverdi's shadow, so it is pleasant to welcome this CD back. It has an enviable line up of singers with the young Andreas and Elisabeth Scholl alongside René Jacobs and Maria Cristina Kiehr.

The motets all receive fine performances. This vocal chamber music requires a good interplay between performers and those on this record are generally admirable. Jacobs sings two of the solo motets, 'Salve Regina' with its cornet obliggati and 'O quam tu pulchra est'. Whilst I was able to admire his artistry greatly, not everyone will like his distinctive resinous tone. But these are two of the most affecting motets on the record and Jacobs' way with the words is hauntingly persuasive. Though all the artists on the disc are excellent, Jacobs proves to be the most penetratingly responsive to the text.

The admirable cornettists are Jean Tubery, and William Dongois and their playing combines discretion and subtlety along with virtuoso effect. They appear on two further tracks. 'Transfige', a solo motet well sung by Gerd Türk with his mellifluous, bright, if slightly unvarying tenor voice and 'Bone Jesu verbum patris', a lovely duet charmingly sung by Elisabeth and Andreas Scholl, who blend exquisitely. The two cornets beautifully balance the two vocalists and show off Grandi's expertise with the new structural developments in sacred music.

Dramatic and structural interest are rarely absent from these lovely works. Solo voices are counterbalanced by two violins in three of the motets. 'Osculetur me', in which Andreas Scholl brings to bear his creamy alto voice; 'Virgo prudentissima' sung with a brilliant urgency by Elisabeth Scholl; 'Vulnerasti cor meum' sung by the bright toned Maria Cristina Kiehr who gets the bulk of the soprano solos.

In the multi-voiced motets, some are in the more traditional style of the late 16th century, like the 5-voiced setting of Job's lament, 'Versa est'. But others reflect Grandi's more recent concerns. 'Heu mihi! - Quid ploras?' is a conversation between the despairing sinner (hauntingly sung by Gerd Türk) and God (sung by Andreas Scholl, Otto Rastbichler and Ulrich Messthaler). 'Quemadmodum desiderat' is another dialogue, this time between two voices (Maria Christina Kiehr and Ulrich Messthaler). a lover and beloved, which ends with a hymn to the Virgin!

The motet 'Plorabo die ac nocte' uses a text which links the lamentations of Jeremiah with a pain-filled Marian lament. The text is sung by each soloist in turn. But, in an effect reminiscent of a Greek chorus, all soloists join together at the end of each solo. But the most remarkable is possibly 'Missus est Gabriel'. This setting of the annunciation uses St. Luke's Gospel, allocated to Evangelist (Ulrich Messthaler, singing with a wonderfully dark tone), Angel (Gerd Türk) and Virgin (Andreas Scholl). But this mini-oratorio increases the drama by adding an off-stage chorus (sopranos Maria Cristina Kiehr and Elisabeth Scholl) who constantly sing the praises of the virgin, providing a chorus which comments on and interrupts the main dialogue.

All the items on this CD are gems. Grandi had great melodic gifts and good ear for dramatic presentation of his texts. A singer himself, his vocal lines are always effective and grateful. All the singers on this recording are admirable and it manages to showcase the talents of a remarkable group of young singers and instrumentalists.

Grandi's motets deserve to be better known, but his works have been difficult to come by in performing editions. This seems to be the only CD in the catalogue devoted solely Grandi's works, so it is pleasing to see its return and the artists are also to be commended for their musicological research. It is a shame that the CD booklet does not manage to print the texts of the motets. Grandi was such a text based composer that one misses the opportunity of following the words in translation. Not all of these texts are well known and not everyone has the requisite Latin.

This is a lovely CD to listen to in one sitting or simply to dip into. I can highly recommend it.

Robert Hugill

 



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