Giovanni LEGRENZI (1626-1690)
Testamentum: Sonata La Spilimberga Op. 2, no 2 [6:38]; Sonata'La querini' Op. 2, no 14 [4:22]; Missa quinque vocibus 'Lauretana' [33:35] Congratulamini Filiae Sion [5:45]; Harmonia d'affetti devoti, 'Hodie collaetantur coeli' Op. 3, no 1; written by 1655 [5:15]Compiete con le lettanie, 'Alma Redemptoris Mater' Op. 7, no 14; written by 1662 [3:07]
Lia Serafini (soprano); Roberta Giua (soprano); Oficina Musicum/Riccardo Favero
rec. September 2009 - 2012, Chiesa di Sant'Alessandro Martire, Massanzago, Italy. DDD
DYNAMIC CDS 710 [58:42]
This is music of great beauty, sophistication and emotional strength. It's performed with aplomb, sensitivity and technical zest by Oficina Musicum and soprano soloists conducted by Riccardo Favero. It's a major release of works which - apart from the Spilimberga sonata on Ligia 301109 - are otherwise unavailable. The quality of performance is by and large excellent. You are herewith invited to join the Legrenzi 'revival' to which this CD contributes so successfully.
Legrenzi was a major influence on music and musicians of his own time and that and those immediately succeeding him in late seventeenth century Italy and beyond. Among his pupils were Vivaldi and possibly Caldara. He was a major influence on Alessandro Scarlatti. His sonatas became the standard format for what followed - both as the trio sonata and sonata a due. He developed the practice of purposeful and clear distinctions in tempo markings between movements. Yet Legrenzi is not exactly over-represented in the current catalogue. Astonishingly the present CD is but one of half a dozen devoted exclusively to the North Italian composer. It should be snapped up by anyone who already knows Legrenzi's allure, wants to explore the development of chamber, concertante and virtuosic music of the era and who appreciates the unalloyed beauty of whatever form in which Legrenzi wrote.
It's a fetching programme too: the Spilimberga sonata is unpretentious yet arresting. It says much in a few minutes but its distillation is not jarring. The bulk of the less than an hour long CD is given over to the exquisite and gently but persuasively played and sung Lauretana five voice mass. This work unfolds slowly and with a subtle inevitability and clarity that is admirably conveyed by soloists and instrumentalists (in the interspersed numbers) alike. A little disappointingly, the soloists are at times either under-miked and/or placed too far from our virtual listening point to sound as present and immediate as we might prefer. The allelujia [tr.8], for instance, is a solo tour de force that would have benefited from greater exposure so sure and clean are the singer's vocal lines and artless articulation.
The delightful querini sonata breaks the flow of purely vocal/choral music. This presumably is deliberate in order to provide a contrast that also speaks to Legrenzi's versatility and inner strengths as a composer. These reflect as much what he seems to have wanted to achieve as a musician as was required of him by his patrons. The obviously committed Oficina Musicum stays on top form. They and sopranos Lia Serafini - whose timbre is at time a little less than refined and less crystalline than might be expected - and Roberta Giua lead the last three shorter (but far from insubstantial) vocal Marian pieces, Congratulamini Filiae Sion, Harmonia d'affetti devoti, 'Hodie collaetantur coeli' and Compiete con le lettanie, 'Alma Redemptoris Mater'.
Although the word 'gem' comes to mind when enjoying these pieces, they're performed in a clean and unostentatious way. It is as though Legrenzi were already now as re-established and oft-performed a composer as those of his contemporaries and successors with higher profiles. This is surely the right approach and Favero and Dynamic are to be congratulated on it.
The recording and acoustic are good but not perfect. Ultimately, the beauty of the music and the strengths of the performance overcome these reservations. The booklet that comes with the CD is adequate. It concentrates on the provenance and nature of the manuscripts of the mass that have been used. It contains the texts in Latin.
Legrenzi is yet another composer in the 'early' music world who deserves the appellation 'forgotten'. Here Favero has unfussily and without self-consciousness argued the composer's case well - by letting he music unfold on its own terms. He quietly and confidently helps to ensure that Legrenzi will stay 'overlooked' not a moment longer than he can help. He does so with style and a depth that are only to be admired. Although the profundity and loveliness of Legrenzi's music will surprise you if you're not fully familiar with it, this CD makes a quiet and sane contribution to his profile. Don't hesitate.
Splendid music: well-conceived, well performed and well projected in almost every way.