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Ippolito GHEZZI (fl.c.1650-c.1709)
L’Adamo, Oratorio à 3 voci. Op.3 (1700) [23:55]
Dialogo di Maria Vergine e un Anima (Dialogue between the Virgin Mary and a Soul) [8:35]
Dialogo di San Michele Arcangelo e il Demonio (Dialogue between the Archangel Michael and the Devil) [6:37]
Lamentationi per la Settimana Santa, Op.4 (Lamentations for Holy Week) (1707):
Prima Letione del Mercordi à sera (First Lesson for Wednesday evening) [9:24]
Prima Letione del Giovedi à sera (First Lesson for Maundy Thursday evening)[6:42]
Seconda Letione del Venerdi à sera (Second lesson for Good Friday evening) [7:50]
Cappella Musicale di San Giacomo Maggiore di Bologna/Roberto Cascio
rec. no information provided. (P) 2008. DDD.
TACTUS TC653201 [63:09]


Experience Classicsonline

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 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, 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.

Brian Wilson

Note from Glyn Pursglove

I 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 as follows:
In L'adamo - Eve - Barbara Vignudelli; Adam - Andrea Fusari; God - Gastone Sarti;
in the Dialogues - Soul - Patrizia Cigna; Virgin Mary - Barbara Vignudelli; St. Michael - Marcella Ventura; Devil - Gastone Sarti;
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.


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