(1639 - 1703)
Sonata a 5 [09:34]
PORPORA (1686 - 1768)
Stelle lucide, motetto per soprano
Maria BENEDETTI (1683 - 1746)
Pastori o voi, cantata morale per
il Santissimo Natale per Soprano solo
Fra G.M. PÒ
DEL FINALE (c1700)
O quam jubilat, Motetto per il Santissimo
Natale per Soprano ed Alto solo
Fra Francesco Maria BENEDETTI
Salve Regina [04:11]
Antonio LAZZARI (1678 - 1754)
Motetto - Canto Solo per Natale
(1653 - 1713)
Concerto grosso "fatto per la notte
di natale" in g minor, op. 6,8 [13:24]
Christmas is one of
the favourite times of the year for
artists and record companies. Very few
miss the opportunity to produce recordings
with music which in some way or another
is connected with the feast. As a result
every year a respectable number of discs
are released, most of which are rather
unimaginative in regard to repertoire.
Fortunately there are some exceptions.
This disc is one of them, as all but
one of the compositions on the programme
are world premiere recordings.
This disc presents
music which is connected to the Holy
Convent of St Francis of Assisi. With
the exception of Corelli's Concerto
grosso the compositions performed here
were found in the library of the convent,
and therefore it is plausible to assume
that they may have been performed there.
Only some of the composers were connected
to the convent: Melani, Porpora and
Corelli were not, nor did they belong
to the Franciscan order. And not all
pieces recorded here were specifically
written for Christmas (Melani, Benedetti's
Salve Regina). But this disc certainly
sheds an interesting light on a music
practice which, according to Olaf Krone
in his programme notes, has hardly been
explored. The repertoire recorded here
certainly whets the appetite for more.
The disc starts with
a beautiful Sonata for two trumpets,
2 violins and bc by Alessandro Melani,
a composer who worked in Pistoia and
Rome, and composed quite a large amount
of music which is still hardly known.
Porpora is not that well-known either;
he was first and foremost an opera composer,
and the motet 'Stelle lucide' is evidence
of that. It seems an early work, and
here he is rather moderate in adopting
the operatic style in his sacred music.
In the motets he composed in the 1740s
for the Ospedale dei Derelitti in Venice
he went much further. The text is not
directly related to Christmas, but as
the last aria is written in the pastoral
12/8 time, it is not illogical to include
it in the programme.
Francesco Maria Benedetti
was maestro di cappella in Assisi
from 1711 to 1746, with some interruptions.
His cantata 'Pastori o voi' is called
a 'moral cantata', and it is in the
closing very short aria - just 42 seconds
- that we find the moral: "Whoever turns
to heaven shall find Jesus". This is
preceded by a sequence of recitatives
and arias whose texts are in character
not that different from the secular
cantatas of the time. There is nothing
unusual about that as the motets of
Vivaldi demonstrate. The 'Salve Regina'
is not specifically written for Christmas,
but certainly fits into this programme.
It is very suitable for text illustration,
with words like "clamamus", "suspiramus"
Giuseppe Maria Pò
del Finale was maestro di cappella
from 1699 to 1704. He came from Finale
di Modena (now Finale Emilia); hence
the addition to his name. The motet
'O quam jubilat' is set for two solo
voices - soprano and alto - 2 trumpets
and bc. The vocal sections are interspersed
with short ritornellos. The heart of
the piece is a lullaby: "O sweet child,
sweet Jesus, sacred little boy, visit
Lazzaro was a Franciscan, but there
is no evidence that he worked in Assisi.
What we do know is that he was active
as maestro di cappella in Bologna
and Venice. His motet also contains
a lullaby; the last aria says: "sing
a lullaby to the sweetest, purest and
gentlest little child". The main feature
in this motet is peace and quiet. The
first aria sets the tone as it talks
about the "quiet night" in which the
protagonist recognizes Jesus' "splendid
The disc ends with
one of the most popular instrumental
pieces for Christmas time: the 'Christmas
concerto' by Corelli. Corelli's music
- in particular his trio sonatas - has
been found in the library of the convent
of Assisi, and therefore it is assumed
this concerto may have been played there
as well. I have no problems with this
kind of speculation, in particular when
it sounds reasonably plausible, but
I would have preferred another unknown
But overall there is
nothing to complain about. It doesn't
happen that often that almost all pieces
on a disc are new to the catalogue.
And that makes this disc a winner in
itself, the more so as the music is
of good quality and is well worth listening
to. It should also give performers a
few ideas about what to play during
Christmas concerts. It is to be hoped
that this music - and maybe other pieces
from the same archive – will be printed.
The booklet contains
informative programme notes by the German
musicologist Olaf Krone. What I don't
understand is why these notes are translated
into English and the lyrics are not.
That is an unforgivable omission in
a release geared to the international
Fortunately there is
hardly anything wrong with the performances.
The singers and players do a fine job.
Ruth Ziesak has a nice voice, well suited
to this kind of repertoire. She blends
well with the contralto in Pò
del Finale's motet and with the trumpets.
She sings the recitatives with the right
amount of rhythmic freedom, and generally
doesn't try to do too much. That is
particularly tempting in this music
which is mostly of a rather quiet and
introverted character. Having said that
I believe that a bit more colour and
expression wouldn’t have gone amiss.
The same is true of the ensemble, which
could have played Corelli's concerto
with a shade more life and lift. The
string parts in Benedetti's Salve Regina
are also a little on the bland side.
None of this detracts
from my enjoyment of this disc. As I
wrote at the start of this review, this
disc makes one want to hear more from
the same source. This disc is most definitely
an important and interesting addition
to the catalogue of Christmas music.
Johan van Veen