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Claudio MERULO (1533-1604)
Missa Virginis Mariae - In Annuntiatione Domini
Toccata II del V. tono* [07:01]
Introït: Vultum tuum** [02:56]
Kyrie*/** [05:32]
Gloria*/** [16:10]
Gradual: Tollite portas** [05:24]
Toccata VIII* [03:53]
Alleluja: Diffusa est gratia** [03:06]
Offertory: Ave Maria** [02:33]
Sanctus*/** [03:42]
Agnus Dei*/** [03:52]
Communion: Ecce virgo** [02:32]
Toccata I del V. tono* [05:46]
Roberto Loreggian, organ (*)
Schola Gregoriana 'Scriptoria'/Nicola m. Bellinazzo (**)
rec. October 2000, Chiesa di S. Caterina, Treviso & Chiesa S. Margherita, Carpi, Verona, Italy. DDD
TACTUS TC 533801 [62:48]


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Comparison version: Frédéric 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.

Johan van Veen


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