has become a very popular composer lately.
Every year a number of recordings with
his music are being released. Most of
them contain oratorios, cantatas or
instrumental works. In comparison his
liturgical music has been given little
attention. Here we find a Scarlatti
who is in some ways very different from
the composer of the oratorios and cantatas.
He himself characterised his sacred
music as written in 'lo stile sodo alla
Palestrina', a solid style after Palestrina.
The music on this disc is evidence of
this. It is perhaps because of this
'old-fashioned' character that his liturgical
music is considered less interesting.
But this disc proves that, if performed
well and presented in a proper context,
this music can be just as beautiful
and interesting as other parts of his
This mass setting by
Alessandro Scarlatti is entitled 'Missa
per il SS.ma Natale per uso della Basilica
di S. Maria Maggiore Del Sig. Alessandro
Scarlatti xbre 1707'. It was thanks
to Cardinal Ottoboni that Alessandro
Scarlatti was appointed assistant chapelmaster
in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
in Rome in 1703. But he never gave any
attention to the job as he concentrated
on composing operas for prince Ferdinando
II de' Medici. But Ferdinando began
to prefer the music of Giacomo Antonio
Perti. It was Cardinal Ottoboni's influence
again which resulted in Scarlatti being
appointed chapelmaster of the basilica
after the death of the then chapelmaster
Francesco Foggia. Although the appointment
took place in July 1707, it lasted until
December of that year before Scarlatti
started to take the post seriously.
It seems the music on this disc is the
first he composed for performance in
the Santa Maria Maggiore.
The mass is written
in two choirs, which were placed at
both sides of the high altar. The first
choir is in 5 parts, with two sopranos,
the other has the traditional SATB scoring.
In addition, there are two violin parts,
and two identical parts for organ. There
is also a paying list of musicians taking
part in the performance, which shows
that a cello was added to one of the
organs. It was played by the then famous
cellist Filippo Amadei, who was in the
service of Cardinal Ottoboni. In this
performance only one organ is used,
although there are two organ parts.
It is interesting to note that Alessandro
Scarlatti's son Domenico was taking
part in the performance. In the list
of payments nothing is said about what
role he played other than "being in
the second choir". Is it too far-fetched
to assume he was playing the organ part
in the second choir?
The mass is performed
here in a liturgical context. The Proper
- consisting of texts which change in
accordance with the character of the
feast or Sunday or ferial day - is taken
from the mass 'Ad Primam in Nocte Di
Natale', and is sung in plainchant.
So are some sections of the Ordinary,
which Scarlatti either left out or have
nor survived. From the Agnus Dei the
supplication 'dona nobis pacem' has
been left out by Scarlatty, which is
in line with the tradition in this particular
basilica: it has never been set to music
in all masses written for this church
from the 10th to the 18th century.
It was common practice
in services in Italy in the 17th century
to add motets and instrumental pieces.
That is what has been done here. Alessandro
Scarlatti's motet Beata mater is a perfect
example of a piece written in the 'stile
antico' and is set for four voices without
accompaniment. If anywhere it is in
this piece that one is reminded of the
style of Palestrina. Although his mass
setting is relatively old-fashioned,
Scarlatti's setting is harmonically
more adventurous than Palestrina's compositions,
and contain more dissonances, in particular
in the Credo, than Palestrina ever used.
Another composer featuring
prominently in this recording is Bernardo
Pasquini, who is mainly represented
by organ pieces. He was first and foremost
known as an organist and composer of
keyboard music, and the teacher of the
likes of Gasparini, Zipoli, Krieger
and Muffat. He was strongly influenced
by Frescobaldi, and even more by the
works of Palestrina. Interestingly his
solo motet recorded here is one of the
most 'modern' of the entire programme.
This disc is a most
eloquent plea in favour of Alessandro
Scarlatti's sacred music, and also throws
light on the liturgical practice in
17th-century Italy. In particular a
liturgical 'reconstruction' like this
is very helpful to understand the character
and meaning of the music performed here.
The ensembles give very fine performances
throughout. The vocal ensemble contains
some singers which are well-known in
the Italian early music scene, like
Monica Piccininni, Alessandro Carmignani
and Walter Testolin. The solo motets
are given outstanding interpretations
by Teresa Necci and Alessandro Carmignani.
Mauzirio Fornero does an excellent job
in the organ pieces, and the plainchant
is beautifully sung by the Schola Gregoriana.
Apparently the programme
was recorded in a studio, but fortunately
it has the right amount of reverberation
as one may expect from the church, where
the music was originally performed.
The programme notes are informative,
but it is disappointing that the texts
of the Proper and the motets are only
translated in Italian.
Johan van Veen