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Stabat Mater - Motets to the Virgin Mary
see end of review for track listing
Philippe Jaroussky (alto)
Ensemble Artaserse
rec. 5-10 December 2005, Eglise Notre-Dame du Liban, Paris, France. DDD
VIRGIN CLASSICS 6939072 [71:31]

Experience Classicsonline

When I received this disc I was expecting a new recording. In fact this is a reissue of one released only four years ago. I'm not sure what to make of this. Maybe the first release was so successful that it was soon out of print. I can understand that, because the repertoire is exciting and the performances are very good. 

The veneration of the Virgin Mary began in the 4th century and became increasingly important during the ensuing centuries. It led to a large number of compositions on texts connected to Mary and the various stages and aspects of her life. The main texts are the five so-called 'Marian antiphons': Alma redemptoris mater, Ave Regina coelorum, Regina coeli, Sub tuum praesidium and Salve Regina. Another important text is the Stabat mater, a poem which expresses the grief of Mary about the passion of her son, and probably dates from the 13th century.
This anthology presents a sequence of Marian motets written in Italy during the 17th century. It is interesting to look at the views of the Church on music for the liturgy. In 1562 the Council of Trent stated that during mass "all music containing, whether in the singing or at the organ, anything lascivious or impure" should be avoided. At the same time liturgical music should become simpler and their texts easier to understand. It was especially the oeuvre of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina which was considered the most ideal expression of the views of the Church.
But one could argue that the stile nuovo which made its entrance in Italy around 1600 was an even more appropriate expression of those views. In particular the predominance of the text over the music, which was advocated by Giulio Caccini, and his ideal of recitar cantando - a speech-like way of singing - were highly suited to communicating the text to an audience. At the same time, this style tended to blur the boundaries between sacred and secular music. And that increased the danger of the entrance of "lascivious" and "impure" influences into a sacred realm.
The programme here reflects the musical forms which composers used to express the veneration of the Virgin Mary as well as the changes in the style of composing during the 17th century. Jean-François Lattarico, in his programme notes, tends to simplify the character of the music of the first half of the century, when he writes that Alessandro Grandi, like his teacher Claudio Monteverdi, abandoned the polyphonic techniques of the prima prattica. In fact, both aimed at blending elements from the stile antico and the stile nuovo in their compositions. The first item of the programme, Grandi's Salve Regina, attests to that. The vocal line is written in the style of the monody, but the instrumental parts are written in polyphonic style. In the closing episode the voice is completely embedded in the polyphonic texture. That is also the case in Casati's Sanctissima virgo.
In particular the compositions which date from around the middle of the century show the evolution to greater independence of the music from the text. Cavalli's O quam suavis and Ave Regina coelorum by Mattioli are just two examples. In the latter half of the century this development increases, as the compositions by Bassani and Colonna consist of a sequence of recitatives and arias.
The Italian music of the 17th century, whether secular or sacred, is often dramatic and emotional. This is a great challenge for the interpreters. Philippe Jaroussky has a wonderful voice, among whose features are a great flexibility and a wide range. That is especially suitable for the many and often virtuosic ornaments which are a feature of this repertoire. There is no lack of emotion in his interpretations. He goes a long way towards achieving ideal interpretations and in this he is effectively supported by his Ensemble Artaserse.
Even so, I feel there is more in this music than comes off in these performances. There should be much more ornamentation; Jaroussky is too sparing in this department. He makes use of the messa di voce now and then, and again I feel he should have used it more frequently. Composers often made use of the figure of the esclamazione on words like "O" (O quam tu pulchra es, O intemerata). And I also think Jaroussky could have used a wider dynamic range in the messa di voce.
The recitatives in the compositions of the late 17th century are well realised, but the declamatory passages in the compositions from the first decades of the century, like Grandi's O quam tu pulchra es, are rhythmically too strict. The ideal of recitar cantando is not fully realised. I have to admit that I find it a little odd to hear a woman's voice singing the lower part in the duets. Once I got used to it, I appreciated the way Philippe Jaroussky and Marie-Nicole Lemieux sing Grandi's O intemerata. I was less impressed by Legrenzi's Ave Regina coelorum, where Ms Lemieux's vibrato spoilt my enjoyment.
Despite my critical remarks I think this is a very interesting and captivating recording. The programming is imaginative, as it contains compositions of a number of hardly-known composers and delivers an interesting survey of the compositional developments during the 17th century. If you didn’t purchase this disc when it was first released, you now get a second chance. Don't miss it.
Johan van Veen

Track listing
Alessandro GRANDI (1586?-1630)
Salve Regina
Govanni LEGRENZI (1626-1690)
Ave Regina coelorum
Francesco CAVALLI (1602-1676)
O quam suavis
Giovanni Antonio RIGATTI (1613-1648)
Regina coeli laetare
Giovanni Paolo CAPRIOLI (d.1627)
Vulnerasti cor meum
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643)
Ave maris stella
(organ) [3:40]
Giovanni Felice SANCES (1600-1679)
Stabat mater
Giovanni Battista BASSANI (1650-1716)
Corda lingua in amore
Alessandro GRANDI
O quam tu pulchra es
Giovanni Battista BASSANI
Sonata prima
(2 violins, bc) [8:10]
Alessandro GRANDI
O intemerata
Andrea MATTIOLI (1620-1679)
Ave Regina coelorum
Girolamo CASATI (c1590-after 1657)
Sanctissima Virgo
Giovanni Paolo COLONNA (1637-1695)
O coeli devota


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