Information on Ippolito Ghezzi is hard to come by – type his name
into a search engine and you’ll find only ads for this recording
and a brief write-up, in slightly awkward English, on the Tactus
website. There is nothing on him in those stalwart guides, The
Oxford Companion to Music and the Concise Grove Dictionary
of Music. According to the Dizionario Biografico degli
Italiani and Musici Agostiani, he seems to have been
born in Siena or Sinalunga and to have become an Augustinian monk
around 1650. He was maestro di capella at Montepulciano
Cathedral from 1679 to 1700 and published works on musical theory.
This is, as far as I am aware, the first time that any of his
six surviving pieces of music, published in Bologna and Florence,
has been recorded: Tactus certainly claim this as a first recording.
I can’t pretend that we are dealing with undiscovered
masterpieces here – l’Adamo, for example, is no match
for Cavalieri’s oratorio Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo
of a hundred years earlier, even less for Alessandro Scarlatti’s
oratorios – but it often rises well above the competent level;
I enjoyed all the music and most of the performances.
The first work, dealing with the Fall of Adam,
falls into three parts: in the first, Eve expresses the bliss
of paradise; the second depicts the temptation and fall and
the third deals with God’s judgement on the pair. The work is
described as an ‘Oratorio’, which means something quite different
from the model which most of us have in mind, Handel’s Messiah
- see the informative articles on Oratorio in the Oxford
Companion to Music and the Concise Grove for details.
The oratorio began as a form of entertaining instruction in
Rome, while the theatres were closed during Lent. The Fall of
Adam and Eve was an obvious topic, since Lent was a period of
abstinence in repentance for Adam’s sin, inherited by the whole
human race, before the triumph of Christ, the second Adam, at
Easter. Ghezzi’s three-fold division of this work may reflect
the practice of inserting a sermon or sermons between the sections.
In this performance Eve is sung with sweet purity,
her voice and that of Adam – an equally attractive singer –
dramatically diminishing in security of tone as they realise
what they have done. The portrayal of God, however, slightly
lets down the side: if any voice should sound secure, it should
surely be that of the Deity, but there are some moments of insecurity
here. All three singers have to make themselves heard against
what sounds like the acoustic of a large empty church, but Adam
and Eve largely win the battle. My reservations did not spoil
my enjoyment of this work.
The dialogues are recorded much more closely than
the Oratorio. That between the Virgin Mary and a Soul pairs
two well-matched voices; that between the sweet-toned Archangel
Michael and an appropriately rumbustious and raucous Devil is
more of a contest, not just for the voices but between the instruments,
especially flute(s) and continuo. There are two very enjoyable
performances of the most imaginative music on the disc.
The three lessons for Holy Week, from Lamentations,
are each set for solo voice and accompaniment. Though they form
part of the midnight or early morning service
of Matins, they would have been sung in Ghezzi’s time on the
previous evening: they are, thus, the lessons for Maundy Thursday,
Good Friday and Holy Saturday respectively, sung in anticipation
on the previous day.
Ghezzi’s settings combine the emotional and the
dramatic: the first lesson, sung here by a very attractive soprano,
combines these two elements most effectively – the closing Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum (Jerusalem, return unto the Lord,
is extremely powerful). Otherwise the music is very direct:
Ghezzi elaborates the letters of the Hebrew alphabet which Jerome
included in his Latin Vulgate translation – the original Hebrew
is an acrostic poem – in the traditional manner, but his melismata
never obscure the words as is sometimes the case with settings
of the Lamentations.
The second lesson is also effectively sung by a
bass, the third slightly less well by a contralto. Both singers
tend to swallow their words, the contralto in particular is
given to sounding plummy at times, partly because of the very
resonant acoustic – could it not have been tamed? Nothing disastrous;
as with the less than ideal rendition of God in l’Adamo,
this diminished my enjoyment to some extent but I still found
their performances at least adequate and my overall impression
of the recording was very favourable.
The accompaniment is very light and very effective.
The Tactus website credits two violins, two flutes, a cello,
violone and harpsichord and the director, Roberto Cascio, wields
an archlute. Very occasionally the recording balance favours
the instruments at the expense of the voice, but this is never
a serious problem.
Because I was impatient to hear the work of a composer
who had not even been a name to me, I downloaded this recording
from emusic.com. I have no complaints about the quality of the
downloaded sound – except, of course, for the very resonant
acoustic which is particularly noticeable in L’Adamo
– all the tracks are offered at better than 192k, some at 320k,
the maximum for mp3 files. This is a very inexpensive way to
decide whether you like the music.
There are, however, no notes if you obtain the
music in this way. I am, therefore, unable to give the dates
of the recordings and other details which I would usually have
included in the headings. More seriously, the listener who knows
little about the music of this period is left completely mystified
– the offer of a high-res image of the front cover of the CD
is little consolation.
This is a matter which I have mentioned before
and I again suggest that the solution would be to offer the
notes as a pdf document, as Chandos does on its theclassicalshop.net,
charging for an extra track or tracks to recoup the expense.
Chandos very generously offer this free of charge. With music
of unknown provenance like this, some information is essential.
Even with knowledge of Italian baroque music rather more secure
than the average listener, I found myself adrift at times. The
diction of the singers is not clear enough to hear all that
is sung, even assuming that one’s Italian is up to the task.
One gets the gist, of course, and the texts of the lessons for
Holy Week are not so difficult to obtain, but the general listener
is going to be lost.
The notes on Tactus’s
website help to some extent, but I think
this really is a case for spending the
extra on the CDs.
from Glyn Pursglove
bought this Tactus CD while in Bologna
a couple of months ago. I agree with
pretty well every word of Brian Wilson's
review and, though the CD booklet (apart
from providing Italian texts, adds little
to what is on the Tactus website) I
can add just a little to the information
he gives. In Bologna I went to some
concerts organised by Roberto Cascio.
From a brief conversation with him and
a member of the choir, I understood
that the recording was made in in San
Giacomo Maggiore in Bologna - which
is indeed a very big space. The booklet
isn't specific on this matter. The booklet
does, though, give details of the soloists
whom BW praises (or not!). They are
In L'adamo - Eve - Barbara Vignudelli;
Adam - Andrea Fusari; God - Gastone
in the Dialogues - Soul - Patrizia Cigna;
Virgin Mary - Barbara Vignudelli; St.
Michael - Marcella Ventura; Devil -
in the Lamentations (1) Barbara Vignudelli
(2) Gastone Sarti (3)Marcella Ventura.
Ghezzi is not, I agree, a neglected
genius - but like so many Italian composers
of this period he is, at the very least,
highly competent and he has the advantage
of working in a musical idiom full of
inherited (and developing) possibilities
which high competence could exploit
with rewarding results.