Alessandro Grandi was a lesser known contemporary of Monteverdi
and his sacred music comes from the same world. He initially
worked in Ferrara which is presumed to be his home town. Following
a short period as part of the choir at St. Mark's in Venice
he returned to Ferrara, first as music director of the Accademia
dello Spirito Santo then as maestro di capella at the Cathedral.
He then moved back to St. Mark's in Venice, as a singer and
then as Monteverdi's deputy. His final appointment was as director
of music at the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo. He
died of the plague in 1630.
He started publishing motets when he was still in Ferrara, but
these were mainly solo motets with at most obbligato instruments.
Only when he reached Bergamo did he have the resources to be
able to compose and perform large-scale sacred music, especially
for the Marian feast days which were a feature of religious
life at the Basilica.
Grandi's music was not ground-breaking, though his motets con
sinfonie, sacred concertos in fact, were something new and
influenced Schutz. The music performed on this disc was not
created as a single coherent work by Grandi, only Monteverdi
seems to have had the luxury of being able to do that with his
Vespers. Instead the group perform a set of Vespers movements
assembled by the conductor Rudolf Ewerhart from amongst all
of the pieces written by Grandi throughout his career from his
first published book in 1610 to the final year of his life.
So we should not expect stylistic unity and Grandi's music was
written often for practical purposes, rather than to impress
potential employers. Many of the pieces lack the sheer bravura
of Monteverdi, but Grandi is notable for his sympathy with the
text and capable of some subtlety. Quite a few movements use
brilliant musical illustrations of the texts which add charming
felicities to some of the plainer movements.
The music varies between the large-scale psalm settings and
the smaller solo motet movements. The bigger piece demonstrate
that Grandi was certainly adept at writing for larger scale
forces. Dixit Dominus mixes chorus virtuoso writing for
solo instruments. Laudate pueri and Laetatus sum
are both written for double choir, but admittedly rather influenced
by previous generations - such as Gabrieli. The CD booklet suggests
that Grandi's use of doubling of the ripieno choir and semi-choir
parts, plus his writing for trombones, was through a desire
to create a compact sound suitable for the Basilica in Bergamo.
In the elaborate Magnificat he alternates elaborate sections
for solo voices with big choral statements, along with virtuoso
instrumental writing. One of his last works and one of his finest.
According to the CD booklet the recording was made live though
you could hardly tell, there is no audience noise and the performance
shows few real blemishes. Choral and instrumental forces from
Stuttgart, the Gachinger Kantorei Stuttgart and the Bach-Collegium
Stuttgart, are joined by English-speaking soloists and Matthew
Halls, director of the Retrospect Ensemble, conducts, with soloists
Deborah York, Daniel Taylor, Ed Lyon and Peter Harvey.
York has a voice familiar in this period of music, she brings
her customary intelligence and a fine way with the detail of
Grandi's music. There were odd moments when I felt that the
extruded feel of her vocal production was a little much, but
mostly she simply delights. She and tenor Ed Lyon seem to get
the lion’s share of the vocal solos. Lyon impresses immensely,
both for his way with the bravura writing and for his coping
with some challenging stratospheric writing. That said, there
is a moment towards the end when he sounds as if he might be
tiring. But I loved the way he brings great character and vividness
to the music without ever losing any of the detail.
Alto Daniel Taylor is something of a chameleon, blending nicely
with Deborah York but also evincing high-tenor like tones with
Ed Lyon. Peter Harvey provides strong support and is nicely
vivid when Grandi gives him his moments.
The Gachinger Kantorei and the Bach-Collegium Stuttgart are
a strong partnership and they do not disappoint here. The choir
is on strong form and in the bigger movements, provides good
firm tones and crisp definition. They are well supported by
the instrumental ensemble whose performers provide some fine
solo moments. All is directly deftly by Halls.
Not all of Grandi's music here is on the same level and there
is the odd routine moment. But the performers all perform with
conviction and they certainly persuade and convince.
The CD booklet includes an informative article about Grandi
and his music plus the full texts and translations.
This disc charmed me far more than I could have imagined. At
first listen, you could think Grandi simply a poor relation
to Monteverdi but pay closer attention and there are delights.