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Chamber Vespers - Miniature Masterpieces of the
Orazio TARDITI (1602-1677)
Domine ad adiuvandum [02:20]
Adriano BANCHIERI (1568-1634)
Dixit Dominus [04:51]
Giovanni Paolo CIMA (c1570-1630)
Sonata per cornetto [03:55]
Giacomo FINETTI (fl 1605-1631)
Laudate pueri [05:20]
Alessandro PICCININI (1566-c1638)
Toccata IV [01:26]
Laetatus sum [09:25]
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643)
Canzon III per basso solo [03:33]
Nisi Dominus [04:45]
Capriccio sopra un soggetto [04:48]
Lauda Jerusalem [06:10]
Archangelo CROTTI (fl.1608)
[Sonata sopra] Sancta Maria [02:06]
Giovanni Felice SANCES (c.1600-1679)
Ave maris stella [03:13]
Regina caeli [04:05]
The Gonzaga Band (Faye Newton (soprano), Jamie Savan (treble cornett,
mute cornett), Richard Sweeney (theorbo), Steven Devine (harpsichord,
organ)); Clare Wilkinson (mezzo-soprano), Gawain Glenton (treble
cornett, mute cornett)
rec. 4-6 August 2010, St-Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb,
London, UK. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 0782 [62:16]
The vespers are one of the main liturgical events in the Western Christian church. This has resulted in a large repertoire which could be used by music directors of churches and chapels. Some composers wrote a more or less complete vesper liturgy, like Claudio Monteverdi; they were the exception. Most wrote music which could be used according to what was needed. The fixed parts of the vesper liturgy are five psalms and the Magnificat. These are also best represented in the oeuvre of composers of religious music. Each of these pieces was preceded by an antiphon which was repeated after the psalm. In particular in Italy it was common practice to replace the repeated antiphon by a vocal composition or an instrumental piece.
Discs with music for vespers appear regularly. This disc is special, though, as its title indicates. Most psalms and Magnificat settings were written for pretty large ensembles of voices and instruments. These were only suitable for chapels and churches which had sufficient singers and players at their disposal. There were also smaller churches and chapels with only a couple of singers and players. Their needs were met by various composers some of whom are represented on this disc.
Most psalms are for one voice and basso continuo, usually with one or two melody instruments. The choice of instruments was often left to the interpreters, and even when instruments were mentioned these could be replaced by others. That is also the case in this recording. A number of psalms and the Magnificat are alternatim compositions, meaning that the verses are alternately performed as plainchant and with voice and instruments. The composers who are represented are all from 17th-century Italy. This means that their compositions have been written in the monodic style which was developed in the first decades of the century. Some pieces are from the middle of the century and evince the aesthetic changes which took place at that time, resulting in stronger differentiation between arioso-like passages and recitativic episodes. This is the style we also meet in the operas of the time, for instance those by Francesco Cavalli.
One of the attractions of this disc is that some of the composers are hardly known. No fewer than six of the 14 pieces on this disc have been recorded for the first time. One of the earliest is Giacomo Finetti who worked first in Ascona and later in Venice. A true Venetian was Natale Monferrato, who worked at San Marco under Monteverdi, and later succeeded Cavalli as maestro di cappella. From that perspective it is rather surprising he is hardly known. One of the best-known composers on the programme is Adriano Banchieri, a Benedictine monk, who worked in various cities and was also an important theorist. Today he is mainly known for his organ works, and that makes the inclusion of two vocal items all the more interesting. Maurizio Cazzati was also an organist, who is especially known for his instrumental music. The vespers end with his lively setting of the Regina caeli for solo voice, two instruments and b.c.
This is one of the best items of the programme as far as the performance is concerned. It is lustily sung in an extraverted manner, something I sorely missed in many other items. The fact that they were written for smaller venues doesn't mean they are less theatrical than larger-scale vesper music. The true character of most of these compositions eludes The Gonzaga Band. Faye Newton has a nice voice, but is too restrained in her approach. There is too little dynamic gradation, and she is in particular too economical in her ornamentation. This repertoire is much more exciting than the performances suggest.
I have already indicated that the composers were mostly quite flexible as far as the scoring is concerned. Therefore there is no objection to playing a violin part on the cornett. I just wonder, though, whether it is likely that churches and chapels with moderate capabilities did have access to cornettists rather than violinists. The scoring of Laetatus sum by Francesco Petrobelli seems particularly questionable: it has ritornelli which were originally scored for five-part strings. These are arranged here for solo cornett and theorbo. It seems to me that this scoring indicates that this piece was rather written for larger churches than the kind of spaces on which this programme concentrates. I also don't understand why in the Magnificat by Banchieri and Finetti's Laudate pueri the second voice has been replaced by a mute cornett, especially as with Clare Wilkinson a second singer was available. Her contribution is largely confined to the performance of the plainchant in the alternatim compositions.
The vocal pieces are interspersed with instrumental items, here used as substitutes for the antiphons. Especially interesting is Frescobaldi's Canzon terza per basso solo which is performed on theorbo and basso continuo. I haven't been able to find out whether this combination is prescribed by the composer.
The main significance of this disc is that it sheds light on an aspect of liturgical practice in 17th-century Italy which isn't that well known. The inclusion of several pieces which haven't been recorded before also speaks in its favour. On the other hand the performances are not really that captivating. The music is exciting enough; it is just that the performances are too restrained.
Johan van Veen