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Stefano BERNARDI (1577 - 1637)
Motetti in cantilena a quattro voci
see end of review for track listing
Ensemble Cantimbanco/Roberto Balconi
rec. November 2011, Salone Barbara, Palazzo Vescovile, Monteforte d'Alpone, Verona, Italy. DDD
TACTUS TC 570201 [50:40]

The aesthetic changes which took place in Italy around 1600 had a lasting influence on the course of music history. In secular music the monodic principle as propagated by Giulio Caccini was soon adopted. In sacred music it took a little while until it was applied. Some composers were quick to compose music in the stile nuovo, although most continued to write in the stile antico as well. Among the earliest exponents of the monodic style in sacred music were Ludovico da Viadana, Giovanni Croce and Giovanni Francesco Anerio. The little-known Stefano Bernardi also belongs to this echelon; his Motetti in cantilena a quattro voci which are recorded here complete, were printed in 1613.
Bernardi was born in Verona and was a singer in its cathedral. He spent some time in Rome in order to improve his musical skills. For some time maestro di cappella in one of Rome’s churches, he returned to Verona in 1611. He was appointed maestro di cappella of the cathedral and maestro di musica at the Accademia Filarmonica. He remained there until 1622. In his later years he moved to Salzburg where he participated in the creation of the music for the consecration of the cathedral in 1628.
His output includes a treatise on counterpoint and a number of collections of sacred and secular music. Among them is op. 5 which is the subject of this disc. The title needs some explanation. The word cantilena also appears in the title of a publication by Croce, Sacrae cantilene concertate which was printed posthumously in 1610. Marco Materassi, in his liner-notes, explains: "In this case, cantilena indicates a particular application of the concerto style consisting in the alternation of solo episodes (for one or more voices) and sections of 'ripieno', for the most part acting as a ritornello". This way the composers - Croce and Bernardi - link up with the Venetian cori spezzati principle. The soli are the first choir, the tutti the second. In Bernardi's motets and psalms we hear a constant alternation of episodes for solo voices and tutti passages. The latter are sometimes supported by the instruments, playing colla voce but also adding ornaments to the various vocal lines.
The collection comprises twenty vocal pieces, on texts from the Bible - mostly the book of Psalms - and liturgical and traditional texts. In addition there are six instrumental items, referred to as canzoni on the title page, but called sonate in the partbooks. They are for all sorts of instruments; here they are played on cornetts and sackbuts, the main instruments in ecclesiastical music at the time.
The raison d'être of the monodic principle was attention to the text and its expressive qualities. In this respect Bernardi's motets fail to make a lasting impression. Some of them are rather good - for instance Paratum cor meum - and now and then one notices some eloquent text expression - such as battaglia figures in Estote fortes. On the whole though I was not impressed by these compositions. The performance doesn’t help either: the singers all have very nice voices which are perfectly suited to this repertoire. However, dynamically what we hear is rather flat and there is far too little ornamentation. The instruments playing with the tutti add more ornaments than the singers. The delivery should also be of a more declamatory character, in line with the ideals of Caccini. The best parts are the tutti episodes in the vocal items. The sonatas are also nicely played.
It seems to me that this is a disc for those who have a more than average interest in the music of this period in history. It sheds light on an intriguing aspect of early 17th-century liturgical music. The booklet omits the lyrics; they can be downloaded from the Tactus site, but it only offers Italian translations. The sources of the texts are given, and one may find a number of them on the internet, with an English translation.
Johan van Veen

Track listing
Sonata VI in sinfonia [2:12]
Nativitas gloriosae [1:45]
Benedictus Deus [2:13]
Estote fortes [1:17]
O pretiosum [2:08]
Sonata III [1:43]
Haec dies [1:29]
Gaudeamus omnes [1:27]
Super omnia [1:38]
Exultate iusti [2:01]
Sonata IV [1:40]
Voce mea [2:08]
Isti sunt [1:27]
Hodie Christus [2:17]
Invocavi [2:25]
Sonata V [1:50]
In te Domine [2:31]
Viri Sancti [1:55]
Anima nostra [2:29]
Salvum me fac [1:50]
Sonata II [1:37]
Paratum cor meum [3:06]
Cum jucunditate [2:04]
Osculetur me [2:05]
Gustate et videte [2:10]
Sonata I [1:26]