Orazio TARDITI (1602-1677) Domine ad adiuvandum (1650) [2.20]
Adriano BANCHIERI (1568–1634) Dixit Dominus (1613) [4.51]
Giovanni Paolo CIMA (c.1570–1630) Sonata per cornetto (1610) [3.55]
Giacomo FINETTI (fl.1605–1631) Laudate pueri (1613) [5.20]
Alessandro PICCININI (1566–c.1638) Toccata quarta (1623) [1.26]
Francesco PETROBELLI (d.1695) Laetatus sum (1670) [9.25]
Girolamo Alessandro FRESCOBALDI (1583–1643) Canzon terza per basso solo (1634) [3.33]
Orazio TARDITI (1602–1677) Nisi Dominus (1650) [4.45]
Girolamo Alessandro FRESCOBALDI (1583–1643) Capriccio sopra un soggetto (1626) [4.48]
Natale MONFERRATO (c.1615–1685) Lauda Jerusalem [6.10]
Archangelo CROTTI (fl.1608) Sonata sopra Sancta Maria (1608) [2.06]
Giovanni Felice SANCES (c.1600–1679) Ave Maris Stella (1638) [3.13]
Adriano BANCHIERI (1568–1634) Magnificat (1613) [5.08]
Maurizio CAZZATTI (1616–1678) Regina caeli (1667) [4.05]
The Gonzaga Band (Faye Newton (soprano), Jamie Savan (cornett), Richard Sweeney (theorbo), Steven Devine (harpsichord, organ)) Clare Wilkinson (mezzo), Gawain Glenton (cornett)
rec. St. Jude on the Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, 4-6 August 2010

Not every 17th century Italian ecclesiastical establishment could afford the number of musicians required for Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610, practical though these are with their options for smaller and larger configurations. Economics forced many Italian institutions to use far more chamber-scale forces if they wanted to use music of the seconda prattica.

On this disc the Gonzaga Band are joined by mezzo-soprano Clare Wilkinson and cornettist Gawain Glenton for a programme of music for the vespers service taken from this practical, small-scale repertoire. This is the music a 17th century traveller in Italy might have expected to hear at one of the smaller Italian liturgical establishments. At this period, Sunday vespers was the service for which most churches reserved their most elaborate music.

The programme is structured around the vespers service, with the five vespers psalms alternating with extra-liturgical pieces - a 17th century practice the origins of which are obscure. It offers a selection of interesting instrumental pieces to complement the sacred ones.

In a number of these, such as the Banchieri Magnificat and Finetti's Laudate Pueri, the second soprano part is played on a mute cornett. Undoubtedly the reason for this was partly economic, but it would have been a practice entirely expected and understood in the 17th century and the results are convincingly in period.

The disc opens with Clare Wilkinson singing the chant, Deus in adjutorium just as in the vespers service with a response, Domine ad adjuvandum by Orazio Tarditti, organist at Arezzo, Murano, Volterra and Maestro di Capella at Forli, Iesi and Faenza. He specialised in music for one or two voices and obbligato as performed here.

The Dixit Dominus is by Adriano Bancheri, a Benedictine monk, organist, composer, theorist and author. His setting uses falsebordone, chant alternating with improvised harmonisations over the plainchant. In this, again, the chant is beautifully and evenly sung by Williamson.

The first instrumental interjection is a lovely cornett sonata by Giovanni Paolo Cima, organist at Santa Maria presso San Celso, Milan. This church sonata is beautifully played by Jamie Savan with Richard Sweeney (theorbo) and Stephen Devine (organ).

Giacomo Finetti was choir-master at Ancona, becoming organist of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice. He also directed music at the Convent of Ca' Grande, so his Laudate Pueri was probably written for women to sing; convents were some of the few places where women sang in church. Presumably the other pieces on this disc would have been sung by boys, falsettists or castrati. Finetti's setting is quite virtuosic, testament to the vocal and instrumental skills of the nuns.

Bolognese lutenist Alessandro Picinini's Toccata Quarta is for solo theorbo, giving Richard Sweeney a chance to shine in improvisatory mode.

The third psalm, Laetatus Sum, is given in a setting by Francesco Petrobelli, maestro di capella at Padua Cathedral. His setting is very influenced by contemporary opera using recitative alternating with ariosi and instrumental ritornelli. These latter were written for five-part violin band but here imaginatively restored for cornett and theorbo.

Frescobaldi is perhaps the best known name on the disc; he spent the early part of his career in Rome and his Canzona terza per basso solo features Richard Sweeney's as solo instrument, again liberated from its role as a continuo.

The group returns to Tarditi for the 4th psalm, Nisi Dominus, for just two voices and organ, then returns to Frescobaldi for his Capriccio sopra un soggetto, where Steven Devine demonstrates why Frescobaldi was regarded as one of the finest organists of his day.

The final psalm is Natale Monferrato's Lauda Jerusalem. Monferrato was born in Venice and worked as a musician under Monteverdi, Rovetta and Cavalli at St. Mark's before becoming maestro di capella himself. Like Petrobelli, he seems to have been influenced by operatic styles in his sacred music.

Archangelo Crotti was a monk in Ferrara and only one collection of his music is extant, published in 1608. It is firmly in the avant-garde; Crotti was one of the first composers to adopt the monodic style in sacred music. His Sonat Sopra Sancta Maria for solo voice and cornetts is based on the same litany as used by Monteverdi in the 1610 Vespers. Notwithstanding a certain naοve charm, it does come over as Monteverdi-lite.

Giovanni Felice Sances was born in Rome, where he was a choirboy; he published two volumes of secular cantatas in Venice and composed, and performed in, a dramatic entertainment, Ermiona, in Padua. He entered the service of the Emperor and spent the rest of his life in Vienna. His hymn Ave Maris Stella comes from a collection published in 1638. Again secular influences are palpable, with passages of duet, dialogue and ritornelli, everything written in a triple dance time. All in all a charming piece which probably had the toes of the Viennese congregation tapping.

Banchieri's Magnificat is, like the Dixit Dominus, written in falsebordone; in fact his Magnificat and Dixit Dominus were written in the same year as Finetti's Laudate Pueri.

We finish with Maurizio Cazzatti's Regina Coeli; when this was published in 1667, Cazzatti was maestro di cappella at San Petronio in Bologna. His setting is written for solo soprano, and two violins se piace, an invitation the group took to replace them by cornetts, to fine effect.

Both singers and instrumentalists display considerable virtuosic skills on this disc, but the performances are far more subtle than that statement might imply. This is real chamber music, with a feeling of equality and intelligent dialogue between all the performers.

The CD booklet comes with Latin and English texts, extensive notes on the pieces and the composers plus the usual performer bios and performance pictures.

Many of the works on the disc could easily have fitted into the sub-Monteverdi genre, but the group's intelligence, commitment and clever programming mean that you are able to enjoy their subtle charm in its own right.

Robert Hugill

Subtle charm, intelligence, commitment and clever programming.

See also review by Johan van Veen