Muñoz (Naxos 8.553335-36)
The Missa Virginis Mariae is one of the three organ masses
which Claudio Merulo published in 1568 as 'Messe d'intavolatura
d'organo'. The organ mass is an example of the 'alternatim'
practice, meaning the division of a liturgical text between
distinct forces, for example choir and organ. This practice
has its roots in the antiphonal psalmody of the early church.
Alternate sections of liturgical chants could be divided between,
for instance, soloists ('cantores') and choir ('schola'). The
practice to use the organ to play in alternation with the choir
developed during the renaissance. The earliest known organ versets
date from the beginning of the 15th century.
The alternatim practice was accepted
and regulated by the church in the
'Caeremoniale episcoporum' of 1600,
which contained detailed prescriptions
as to which parts of the mass could
be played. In his Missa Virginis Mariae
Merulo set sections of the mass which,
according to the rules of 1600, were
to be sung. But he omits the Credo,
which the Caeremoniale also ordered
to be sung in its entirety. In his
publication Merulo added alternatim
settings of the Credo, but the fact
that two of them have different names
from the masses suggests they were
not intended to be included in the
mass settings. From this perspective
it is rather strange that Frédéric
Muñoz, in his recording, has included
the Credo Angelorum.
The setting of the Gloria contains several 'tropes', which
are additions to the liturgical chants, meant to connect the
text of the Ordinary of the Mass more closely to specific feasts.
In the booklet these tropes are printed, whereas in the Muñoz
recording they are omitted. This means that the listener doesn't
know exactly what the organ is playing when two successive verses
are both sung by the choir. The title page of this disc refers
to the liturgical context in which this organ mass is performed:
'In Annuntiatione Domini', which is also reflected in the Propers
which are added here - among them the offertorio 'Ave Maria'.
Claudio Merulo was one of the most prominent musicians
and composers of his time. He was born in Correggio and it is
assumed he got his main training as a musician in Venice from
Adrian Willaert or Gioseffo Zarlino. In 1556 he was appointed
organist at the cathedral in Brescia, and in 1557 he replaced
Girolamo Parabosco at the San Marco basilica in Venice. For
the next 27 years he played a key role in Venetian musical life,
both as organist and as composer of music in all genres. He
was a much sought-after composer of music for private and official
celebrations. He was also active in the field of music publishing
and the construction and development of musical instruments.
He had a wide circle of pupils from Italy and abroad. His teaching
was described by his pupil Girolamo Diruta in his book 'Il transilvano'
of 1593, one of the most important publications of the time.
In 1584 he moved to Parma, where he acted as musician at
the court of the Farneses, and also in Parma Cathedral. In 1591
he was appointed organist at the Madonna della Steccata, which
position he held until his death. In Parma he lived as a wealthy
man, and when he died he was honoured with many tributes, in
which he was called the greatest keyboard player of his time.
Merulo's toccatas are considered to be of crucial historical
importance. They are marked by contrasting sections, imitation,
ornamentation, and a strong improvisatory character. Those qualities
are amply demonstrated in Roberto Loreggian's bold and colourful
performance of the three toccatas on this disc. In comparison
the toccata which opens the Frédéric Muñoz recording is played
unbelievably slowly. The tempo takes away all the brilliance
of the piece. This characterises the whole recording: the tempi
are too moderate, and there is a lack of contrast and colour.
Roberto Loreggian's playing is much more exuberant and extraverted.
The music on the Tactus disc isn't only better played, but also
better recorded, with a more brilliant and direct sound. And
the schola on this disc sings a lot better than the choir on
the Naxos disc.
In short: this new recording is a winner in every respect.
I hope Merulo's other two organ masses will be recorded by Tactus.