Alessandro GRANDI (1586 - 1630)
Deus in adjutorium (1629) [0.58]; O quam suave est (1613) [3.11]; Dixit Dominus (1629) [6.59]; O quam tu pulchra est (1610) [3.20]; Laudate pueri (1629) [2.21]; Vulnerasti cor meum (1621) [3.59]; Laetatus sum (1629) [3.05]; Laetamini vos, o caelo (1619) [3.19]; Nisi Dominus (1630) [5.58]; O quam tu pulchra est (1625) [3.39]; Lauda Jerusalem, Dominum (1630) [5.09]; Ave Maris Stella (1629) [4.35]; O speciosa inter filia Jerusalem (1619) [4.16]; Magnificat (1629) [6.54]
Deborah York (soprano); Daniel Taylor (alto); Ed Lyon (tenor); Peter Harvey (bass)
Gachinger-Kantorei Stuttgart
Bach-Collegium Stuttgart/Matthew Halls
rec. live, Markuskirche Stuttgart, 12 September 2010
CARUS 83.367 [57.50] 

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.
Robert Hugill
This disc charmed me far more than I could have imagined.