Per la Vergine Maria
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Litanie della beata Virgine (1613) [12.02]
Pietro Paolo BENCINI (1675-1755)
Magnificat a 8 voci [16.17]
Alessandro MELANI (1639-1703)
Salve Regina a 9 voci [6.15]
Padre Antonio SOLER (1729-1783)
Magnificat a 8 voci [7.15]
Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725)
Salve Regina a 4 voci [9.16]
Giacomo CARISSIMI (1605-1674)
Magnificat a 8 voci [10.48]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Ave Maria a 4 voci [1.34]
Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini
rec. June 2010, Santa Barbara Basilica, Mantua, Italy
NAIVE OP 30505 [63.31]
It’s of much interest to have side by side these various settings of the Magnificat and the Salve Regina by contrasting composers. They date from the early sixteenth century and well into the eighteenth. Several works have been recorded before but two composers, Pietro Bencini and Alessandro Melani are little known, especially to me. Each movement of each work is, mostly, separately tracked. It’s also interesting to compare say, the Quia fecit movement in Bencini with that by Soler.
Monteverdi comes first with Litanie della Beata Vergine, a solemn and curious Kyrie, which is troped, as it were, by a litany (with each line ending ‘ora pro nobis’) to the virgin. It is in six parts. Each voice is treated soloistically but there are many passages of rich polyphony and others of rich homophonic writing with delicious suspensions as for the Miserere. There are also moments of drama as in the compound time section ‘Virgo prudentia’.
Bencini’s eight-voiced Magnificat opens with a wonderful passage of repeated suspensions before launching into a dramatic ‘et exulatavit’. Bencini was Roman and for a while directed the Capella Giulia at St. Peter's. This work of 1745 is found in a Vatican manuscript and is well worth getting to know. Is it published, I’m not sure? The eight voices are divided mostly into two choirs but there are solo passages as in the beautifully mellifluous soprano aria for the ‘Et misericordia’.
Continuing with the Magnificat settings we come to that by Antonio Soler. I must confess to only having ever heard some keyboard woks by this Spanish monk. He was, after all, a pupil of Domenico Scarlatti. To hear a piece of church music by him was quite a treat. There are apparently about 200 sacred works. It’s difficult to believe that anything so rococo could come from a Hieronymite monk but there we are. The two choirs are divided unusually. The first consists of two soprano lines with alto and tenor; the second, the usual S.A.T.B. The effect is what the booklet notes describe as ‘luminous’. The tempi and solo passages are well contrasted and the setting is the shortest of the three recorded.
Giacomo Carissimi is best remembered for his oratorios like Jeptha. He also wrote some ten masses. His Magnificat is only given one track whereas Soler’s briefer setting is given six. The reason is the way in which the sections run into each other. The slow polyphonic opening gives all eight voices a glorious line but the setting is again for double-choir with continuo. It is rooted in the Venetian tradition although the composer was Roman. Powerful chordal episodes alternate with dialogue and polyphony between the choirs and with brilliant solo passages in a more satisfying way than by Soler.
Composers since the middle ages have always responded with passion and heightened emotion to the Salve Regina text. You might think that in the so called ‘age of reason’ the words might have proven a little less compelling. Not so for Alessandro Melani who sets it beginning with a ground bass for soprano solo beginning with a long and yearning melisma on Salve. Monica Picinni is not totally ideal; I wish that her voice were a little lighter. A choir of eight responds occasionally or leads languid solo lines for instance in the ‘Eja advocate’ section.
The setting by Alessandro Scarlatti is rather archaic in style being in four voices with continuo. It consists here, as is often the case, of two theorbos and organ and is at times rather madrigalian. Its text setting is very sensitive with contrasting textures and tonalities. I especially like the repeat of the music for the word Salve whenever it appears. It’s quite a highlight of the entire disc.
It seems somewhat odd therefore to end the CD with a very brief setting of the Ave Maria - a text not featured so far on the disc. This is by Stravinsky in his more austere homophonic language. If this text was needed at all then a baroque setting might have been recorded to contrast with the Stravinsky or even to replace it. Really this rather barmy idea does not work. The rest of the CD does. It’s good to report that Concerto Italiano are again in good form with clear diction, superb intonation and passion and commitment where appropriate.
The recording serves only to enhance the music. It allows it to breathe and the performers are well balanced. Worth investing in.
Gary Higginson
The recording serves only to enhance the music. It allows it to breathe and the performers are well balanced. Worth investing in.