Alessandro MELANI(1639-1703) Motetti Litanie per la beata Vergine [10:52] Ave Regina coelorum [4:57] Clamemus ante Deum [5:15] O voces formidandae [4:27] De necessitatibus [6:40] Laudate pueri [5:31] Vivere sine te [7:31] Salve Regina [4:19] Ad arma, cor meum [7:32] Magnificat [9:56]
Concerto Italiani (Alena Dantcheva, Monica Piccinini, Anna Simboli
(soprano), Gabriella Martellacci (contralto), Andrea Arrivabene
(alto), Luca Dordolo, Raffaele Giordani (tenor), Matteo Bellotto,
Sergio Foresti (bass), Craig Marchitelli, Michael Leopold (theorbo))/Rinaldo
rec. October 2006, Rome, Italy. DDD NAÏVE OP 30431 [67:07]
Once in a while one finds a disc with music which is really
astonishing. This recording of sacred music by Alessandro Melani
is one such. Not that I haven't heard his music before. In 2008
the German label CPO released a disc with his serenata L'Europa
and some sacred works, performed by the Rheinische Kantorei
and Das Kleine Konzert, directed by Hermann Max. That made a
strong impression on me, and it convinced me that Melani is
a great composer. The present disc with Concerto Italiano confirms
But who exactly was Alessandro Melani? He was born in Pistoia
as one of seven sons of the bellringer Domenico di Sante Melani.
Most of his brothers were musicians, and it seems a number of
them were castrati. It is assumed Alessandro was a castrato
as well. The most famous singer of the family was Atto, who
was also active as a spy. Alessandro started his career as a
soprano in Pistoia cathedral, then became maestro di cappella
in Orvieto and Ferrara respectively. After his return to Pistoia
he was appointed to the same position at the cathedral there,
but only four months after his appointment he moved to Rome
where he became maestro di cappella of S Maria Maggiore,
and about five years later at S Luigi dei Francesi. He remained
in Rome until his death.
The music which has been chosen for this recording is from several
collections which were printed during Melani's lifetime as well
as from various manuscripts. Some pieces, for instance the Litanie
per la beata vergine which opens the programme, were composed
for performance in the Salve, the private chapel of the
Borghese family within the basilica S Maria Maggiore. The scoring
reflects the composition of the ensemble Melani had at his disposal
after he was placed in charge of this chapel. When he moved
to S Luigi dei Francesi he retained this position.
Melani's career shows that he was held in high esteem. It is
therefore rather surprising that his music didn't meet universal
approval. The American musicologist Robert Lamar Weaver noted
several examples of strong criticism. One such was that Melani's
compositions were "fanfares for the devil". Maybe it is Melani's
unusual harmonic language which drew this criticism.
The use of chromaticism and strong dissonances wasn't uncommon
at the time. They were applied to single out particularly emotional
passages. It is not surprising that they appear regularly in
the Litanie, especially on words like "ora pro nobis"
and "miserere nobis". But it seems that they were part of Melani's
overall harmonic language. It is striking that in the Magnificat
which closes the programme, they also turn up, not where one
would expect them, like at "dispersit superbos" or in the verse
'Deposuit potentes' but rather in the opening verse, "My soul
doth magnify the Lord" and also in the doxology. In fact, dissonances
- often very strong ones - appear in almost all pieces on this
There was a tradition in Rome of composing music for double
choir. The Litanie, the Salve Regina and the Magnificat
are examples. This offers the possibility of creating a dialogue
between the two groups. They join in order to single out especially
important passages. There is also another form of dialogue,
between a solo voice and the tutti. That is the case in Ave
regina coelorum: the first section is sung by a soprano
soloist, who in the second half gets involved in a dialogue
with the four-part tutti. Laudate pueri has the same
texture: the soprano has a virtuosic part with many melismatic
passages, juxtaposed with the four-part tutti.
The programme contains three small-scale motets. A voces
formidandae is for two tenors with basso continuo; both
parts are quite operatic and contain strong harmonic tensions.
Ad arma, cor meum is for soprano, bass and bc. It is
about the "war of faith": "Gird on the sword of the spirit which
is the Word of God, and, thus armed, give battle". The war-like
character of the text is effectively translated into music.
Vivere sine te is also a piece of free poetry, set for
two sopranos and bass with basso continuo. In the latter half
the word "veni" (come) is singled out through frequent repetition.
Concerto Italiano is almost a guarantee of excellence. That
is certainly the case here. The unusual harmonies come off very
well, and are sung with perfect intonation. They greatly contribute
to this repertoire making such a strong impression. The delivery
is immaculate, and no opportunity to express the affetti
is missed. There are just two small minuses: Alena Dantcheva
uses a bit too much vibrato in Ave regina coelorum. In
Ad arma, cor meum Anna Simboli's voice is just a shade
too weak in comparison to the voice of Sergio Foresti. The more
penetrating sound of Monica Piccinini would probably have been
more appropriate, also in regard to the text.
But these are only minor issues. This disc is just wonderful,
first and foremost because of Alessandro Melani's remarkable
compositions. He must be considered one of the great composers
in Italy in the second half of the 17th century, and he can
easily compete with someone like Alessandro Scarlatti. And on
top of that Concerto Italiano deliver brilliant performances
which explore the expressive character of Melani's oeuvre to
The booklet contains liner-notes in French and English and the
lyrics with an English and French translation.
Johan van Veen
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