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Organ Masses - Volume 1
Girolamo CAVAZZONI (c. 1525-1577)
Missa Apostolorum (1543) [49:52]
Andrea GABRIELI (c. 1530-1585)
Anchor che co’l partire [5:54]
Toccata Quinta Tono [1:39]
Missa de Beata Virgine (c. 1560) [58:05]
Claudio MERULO (1533-1604)
Toccata, del III Tono [4:37]
Claudio MERULO
Missa un Dominicis Diebus (1568) [66:40]
Sperindio BERTOLODO (c. 1530-1570)
Communion, Ricercar del sesto tuono [3:10]
Claudio MERULO
Toccata, Quinta Tono [6:42]
Richard Lester (organ)
Schola Gregoriana del Duomo di Bergamo/Don Gilberto Sessantini
rec. 3-5 July 2013, Accademia Musicali Santa Cecilia, Bergamon, Italy.
NIMBUS NI 5909/11 [3 CDs: 57:25 + 62:42 + 76:32] 

Richard Lester is best known for his recordings of harpsichord music. You only need to type his name into the MWI search engine to see what a catalogue of distinguished work he has delivered over the years. He did however begin his long career giving organ recitals. The booklet describes his musical prowess as having “come full circle”, though we hope this circle will continue to expand and provide fascinating and delightful collections such as this set.
From the comprehensive booklet notes we learn that organ masses date from around the fourteenth century, in which period the pattern of alternatim, alternating organ with choir, was established. This is the way these works are presented here, with Lester’s expert playing mixing with the unaccompanied voices of the Schola Gregoriana del Duomo di Bergamo. They sound suitably monkish and are not affected by interpretative pretensions beyond stylishly authentic phrasing of the required chants.
The composers are an interesting bunch, starting with Giralamo Cavazzoni about which little is known other than that he was the son of Marco Antonio Cavazzoni, and no doubt steeped in the musical life of the Papal circles. He is considered the first to have fully elaborated on the organ mass genre in Italy. Claudio Merulo preceded Andrea Gabrieli as organist at St Mark’s in Venice, the latter having worked as second organist for nine years. The two had plenty of time to become acquainted with each other’s work being fully at the centre of liturgical musical culture in one of the major places of worship in Europe.
With movements largely following ecclesiastical patterns it is hard to point out highlights in this set. The idea is clearly to have us inhabit the atmosphere of the Mass as much as possible, being called to attend each by the ringing of bells. If I have any criticism then it might be the slightly over-swift fadeout of these recordings and their inclusion in the first track rather than being given their own separate access point should you wish to miss them out. After that the procession of each Mass is rolled out in full splendour from Introit to the final Amen. Richard Lester’s ornamentations and subtle touch keep the organ sections alive and varied. There are also some extra tracks of Toccatas at the end of each mass which act as a kind of postlude.
Full of excellent period music, this is inevitably the kind of collection best taken in limited doses. During three discs of the superb but somewhat penetrating sound of the Giovanni Pradella organ in Bergamo, which is a modern reproduction of a renaissance style instrument, I could feel my sense of appreciation shutting down after a while. It would never have been intended that you sit through three masses in one go, so there is no reason to do that here. Pick your composer, dim the lights, light the incense and enter the Italian church of the 1500s. Roll on Vol. 2.
Dominy Clements