Alessandro GRANDI (c.1586 - 1630)
Vespro della Beata Vergine
Deus in adiutorium meum intende [0:58]
O qual suave est nomen tuum [3:11]
Dixit Dominus [6:59]
O quam tu pulchra es [3:20]
Laudate pueri [2:21]
Vulnerasti cor meum [3:59]
Laetatus sum [3:05]
Laetamini vos, o caeli [3:19]
Nisi Dominus [5:58]
O quam tu pulchra es [3:39]
Lauda Jerusalem Dominum [5:09]
Hymnus Ave maris stella [4:35]
O speciosa inter filias Jerusalem [4:16]
Deborah York (soprano), Daniel Taylor (alto), Ed Lyon (tenor), Peter Harvey (bass)
Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart, Bach-Collegium Stuttgart/Matthew Halls
rec. live, 12 September 2010, Markuskirche, Stuttgart, Germany. DDD
Texts and translations included
CARUS 83.367 [57:50]
Alessandro Grandi was one of the most prolific and most celebrated
composers of his time. But for many of today's music lovers
he is still a largely unknown quantity. That makes any disc
with his music very welcome.
What is presented here is strictly speaking not what the title
suggests: there is no such a thing as a Vespro della Beata
Vergine in Grandi's oeuvre. What we have here is a compilation
of music for Vespers which Grandi composed during various stages
of his career.
In his early years Grandi moved between Ferrara - his likely
birthplace - and Venice. His first position was that of maestro
di cappella at the Accademia della Morte, a charitable brotherhood
in Ferrara. He was just 14 at the time. Between 1604 and 1608
he worked as giovane di coro at San Marco in Venice.
He returned to Ferrara in 1610 in order to take the position
of maestro di cappella of another brotherhood and then
was appointed in the same position at Ferrara cathedral. Between
1617 and 1627 he was in Venice again, from 1620 as vice maestro
di cappella at San Marco. But his relationship with Monteverdi
seems to have been less than friendly, and Grandi moved to Bergamo
where he acted as maestro di cappella in the Basilica
Santa Maria Maggiore.
At least 16 collections of sacred music by Grandi were printed
between 1610 and 1630. In addition many pieces were included
in anthologies. The importance of Vespers in the Catholic liturgy
is reflected by the number of pieces by Italian composers. Cohesive
Vesper compositions were the exception rather than the rule.
The only piece which is mostly considered to be meant as a unity
is the Vespro della Beata Vergine by Monteverdi, and
even in this case some musicologists believe it is meant as
a source from which a maestro di cappella could make
a choice. The Vesper liturgy on this disc has been put together
from various collections of Grandi's music, published between
1610 and 1625, by the German musicologist Rudolf Ewerhart. The
very fact that these pieces are from a period of 15 years indicates
that in no way can this Vesper be considered a kind of 'reconstruction'.
This is confirmed by the absence of the antiphons which were
sung before and after the Psalms and the Magnificat. Here we
get only sacred concertos which were often used as substitutes
for the repeated antiphon.
Grandi's music is of excellent quality and shows the features
of so much of the sacred music of the time, like a combination
of prima prattica and seconda prattica and a very
strong attention to the text and its affetti. The smaller-scale
pieces mostly date from before his years in Bergamo. Here he
had the forces available which allowed him to compose larger-scale
works. The Psalms belong to this category, as they require solo
voices, a favorite choir - either a group of solo voices or
a small vocal ensemble - and a cappella. One of the notable
aspects of Grandi´s music is that he often writes obbligato
parts for instruments. The choice which instruments to use is
often left to the interpreter, but sometimes he specifies them.
In the concerto Vulnerasti cor meum he requires two violins,
in Nisi Dominus three sackbuts. Two violins are also
prescribed in the Hymnus Ave maris stella. Here a single
voice sings the even-numbered stanzas to an instrumental accompaniment,
whereas the odd-numbered stanzas were probably spoken. Here
they are sung in plainchant.
The names of the performers may cause some surprise. On the
one hand we have artists who are very much representatives of
historical performance practice, in particular the director
Matthew Halls. Singers like Deborah York, Daniel Taylor and
Peter Harvey are also frequently appearing in recordings of
early music on period instruments. But the Gächinger Kantorei
is rooted in the traditional performance practice which is advocated
by its director, Helmuth Rilling. Although he claims that he
has been influenced by historical performance practice I have
never been able to discover any real evidence of this. The Bach-Collegium
Stuttgart plays on modern instruments. In this live performance
there is a mix of period and modern instruments. On the one
hand we hear cornetts and sackbuts, and in the basso continuo
section three theorbos are used. But the strings are modern.
It is possible that gut strings are used: they play with hardly
any vibrato, and with metal strings this would sound differently.
Even so, the contributions of the strings are rather unsatisfying
as they lack the brilliance and penetration of real baroque
Looking at the list of performers I didn't expect great things,
and the performances bore this out. With 36 voices the Gächinger
Kantorei is rather large. That would be less of a problem if
the choir would use less vibrato. Although it has been reduced
in comparison to what we use to hear from it under Rilling's
direction, it is still there. In combination with the size of
the choir this results in a lack of transparency. The balance
between the choir and the instruments is also unsatisfying.
Even the soloists are only partly convincing. Deborah York makes
by far the best impression as her singing is the most stylish.
Daniel Taylor is disappointing, in particular in the Hymnus
Ave maris stella where his voice is brittle and his singing
is insecure. Ed Lyons has the perfect voice for this repertoire,
and his ornamentation is mostly very good. It is a shame he
hasn't kept his vibrato in check; there are several passages
where it damages the communication of the text. Peter Harvey
is alright, but unremarkable. The overall balance between the
soloists is not ideal, and in particular Harvey suffers in this
As much as I am in favour of recordings of Grandi's music I
wonder whether this disc has the qualities to promote his oeuvre.
There are too many performance inconsistencies. This music really
needs a good period instrument performance with specialist vocal
forces. Despite the unmistakable qualities of choir and orchestra,
it is simply impossible to turn them into specialists overnight.
The treatment of dynamics is very unsatisfying. Some solo concertos
and in particular the large-scale pieces are dynamically too
flat. I wonder whether the efforts to make the ensemble sound
as 'authentic' as possible are responsible for too much caution.
Lastly, the Hymnus Ave maris stella contains the stanza
"Virgo singularis": "Virgin, most distinguished,
mildest of all, make us chaste and meek by forgiving our sins".
Singing this piano seems an odd relict of old romantic
This is a live performance and that has resulted in slips of
the tongue from some soloists. Moreover, in a couple of pieces
there are differences between the sung text and the lyrics which
are printed in the booklet.
On balance this is a largely unsatisfying attempt to bring Grandi's
music to the attention of a modern audience.
Johan van Veen
See also review by Robert