In 1687 the Bolognese composer Giacomo Antonio Perti was elected
Prince of the Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna. In this capacity
he had the responsibility for fixing the date of the annual
celebration of the Feast of St Anthony, the patron saint of
the Accademia, and for choosing the composers for the music,
the propers and the ordinary of the mass. By tradition, the
Prince composed the Kyrie and Gloria himself.
In 1687 Perti, who had only been elected to the Accademia in
1681, was obviously keen to impress so the Kyrie and
Gloria he produced were for three choirs, his Messa
Perti came from a well-to-do Bolognese family and his early
teachers included his uncle Lorenzo Perti, later on studying
under Carissimiís pupil, Celano. After initial success with
music-dramas and cantatas he settled into the role of ecclesiastical
composer in Bologna. He became the maestro di cappella at the
cathedral of San Pietro and the collegiate church of San Petronio.
He had a long career and was still active in 1756; he left hundreds
of scores and pupils such as Torelli, Martini and Aldrovandini.
His Messa a 12 was premiered on 26 June 1687 by some
eighty performers; the work is testament not only to Pertiís
skills and his ambitions, but also to the calibre of the first
performers. For this disc the piece was recorded live at a performance
in San Petronio. The three choirs are made up of three ensembles,
the Bolognese vocal ensemble Color Temporis, Collegium Musicum
Almae Matris from Bologna University and the Choir of the Cappella
Musicale di San Petronio Ė the latter originally founded in
1436 and re-formed in 1980. The three choirs were played in
the apsidal chancel of San Petronio, which possesses a balcony
which goes all the way around, this enabling Cappella Musicale
di San Petronio and Color Temporis to be placed either side
of the altar with Collegium Musicum Almae Matris in the apse.
Each choir had its own basso continuo group of organ, theorbo,
cello, violone as well as the orchestra of the Cappella Musicale
di San Petronio being placed in the apse. Each choir had its
own group of four soloists as well. One interesting feature
of the casting on this disc is that, though the choirs all use
female altos, the three alto soloists are all men.
Pertiís Messa a 12 is a substantial work in thirteen
movements, starting with a lively sinfonia followed by a massive
twelve-part Kyrie. For the Christe Perti uses
three soprano and three bass soloists and from then on he alternates
solo sections with twelve-part choral ones. There are some cori
spezzati effects in the choral writing, but generally Perti
seems to just revel in the gloriousness of his forces. He concludes
the piece with a bit of showing off: a fine double fugue for
the Cum Spiritu Sancto with the two fugue subjects
combined in augmentation.
The soloists are a characterful bunch, each with a vividly characterised
voice - none of your bland uniformity here. The results are
lively and appealing, very strongly projected. Technically I
had no complaints. All sing Pertiís music with commitment. Inevitably
the acoustic is a bit bathroomy, with the three choirs echoing
around, but I suspect that it gives us a good idea of how it
sounded in practice. The recording occasionally picks up certain
choral lines, so that in part of the Kyrie you can
hear one bunch of tenors rather too distinctly, but all in all
itís a terrific achievement.
The CD opens with Colonnaís motet Laudate Dominum,
an earlier Bolognese work for three choirs, testament to the
polychoral tradition in Bologna. This has a rather more antique
air to it - Colonna was born nearly thirty years earlier than
Perti - but makes a lively start to the disc. Colonnaís use
of trumpets in the accompaniment gives the piece a very celebratory
Pertiís motet Plaudite Mortales for double choir, trumpets
and strings, was written when he was seventeen and pre-dates
his studies with Celano. It is structured very traditionally
with chorus, two arias and concluding chorus. It is a lively
piece which makes a fine conclusion to the disc.
Pertiís twelve-part mass is no lost masterpiece, but it is a
fine and striking achievement, a magnificent poly-choral tour
de force. As you listen to it you can almost hear Perti
revelling in the fun of writing for such forces. It sparkles
with the glee with which he effortlessly showed off his skill.
The CD booklet includes an article by Michele Vannelli providing
background to the works, the composers and the original celebrations
plus some illustrations of the performing space in San Petronio.
The Latin texts are provided, but no translations.
Occasional awkward corners, smudgy passage-work and poor tone
reflect the challenge of producing a live recording with an
ensemble of some 120 singers in such complex large-scale music.
The performances donít have the surface polish of some studio
recordings, but the disc is a terrific achievement. The performances
are vivid and lively and all concerned seem to be full of joie
de vivre in projecting Pertiís amazing work. Quite simply,
this disc is great fun to listen to.