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Bonifazio GRAZIANI (1604-1664)
Adae Oratorium, Fili Prodigi and Five Motets
O miracula, motet [7:57]
Beati mundo corde, motet [6:20]
Venite, audite, motet [5:39]
Quis dabit capiti meo, motet [8:18]
Quid est hoc, motet [5:58]
Adae Oratorium, oratorio [20:54]
Filii prodigi Oratorium [16:15]
Consortium Carissimi/Garrick Comeaux
rec. 21 - 25 July 2014, Church of Saint Mary of the Purification, Shakopee, MN, USA. DDD
NAXOS 8.573256 [71:20]

At page 4 of the booklet for the present disc we read: "Dedicated to the City of Marino (Rome) on the occasion of the 350th Anniversary of the death of Bonifazio Graziani (1604-1664)". It is rather odd then to see the year of Graziani's death given as 1674 on the rear inlay and in the track-list as well as in the liner-notes by Garrick Comeaux.

San Marino is the town where Graziani grew up. It should not be confused with the republic of San Marino, an enclave near the Adriatic coast. This San Marino is near Rome and now part of the province of Rome. It was also the town where Giacomo Carissimi was born. As they were almost exact contemporaries they may well have known each other, probably from early on, but also when they both worked in Rome. Graziani served as a priest in Marino and in nearby Frascati. In 1646 he moved to Rome where he was appointed maestro di cappella at Il Gesù and the Seminario Romano. Under his guidance the choir of Il Gesù grew considerably and it seems likely that he composed his large-scale vocal works for this choir. In the 1650s his compositions started to be published. In 1658 he was appointed cappellano at the Jesuit novitiate house of S Andrea and he was also active in the Congregazione dei Musici di S Cecilia.

The two main works on this disc are two oratorios, a genre which was rapidly growing in popularity, largely due to Carissimi's activities in the composition of such pieces. There is a remarkable similarity between the oratorios of the two composers. Both preferably use biblical subjects and use texts in Latin. The testo - here called textus - or historicus tells the story; he was the model for the Evangelist in German Passions of the 17th and 18th centuries. This role can be given to any voice; in the oratorios by Graziani this part is sometimes sung by a tenor, but also by a bass or a soprano and sometimes this part is for three voices. The accompaniment is confined to basso continuo. However, according to Garrick Comeaux Filii prodigi "has solo figured bass lines in three sections entitled Ritornello in Part I and six sections entitled Symphonia in Part II. One can only speculate that there were obbligato instrumental parts above this bass line. In these sections of Ritornelli and Symphonia, we have reconstructed a solo line for tenor sackbut".

Filii prodigi and Adae are the only extant oratorios from Graziani's pen. The first is about the prodigal son - Jesus' parable as told in the gospel of St Luke (ch 15). The scoring of the roles indicates that such pieces were not subject of scenic performances: both the prodigal son and his older brother are sung by a soprano. The oratorio is divided into two parts: the first tells about the son leaving his fatherly home and later returning when he has spent all his money; the second part is about the way the older brother reacts when his father celebrates the return of his lost child. Both parts end with a four-part chorus.

Adae is the story of the fall of mankind as told in Genesis 3: the serpent (the devil) tempts Eve to eat the fruit from the tree in the middle of the Garden of Eden, against God's commandment. She then tempts her husband Adam to do the same. The first part ends with a chorus which expresses the effect: "O bitter sweetness, o traitorous pleasure! Sweet apple that poisons, that kills mortal beings. Eve tastes, and Adam, and along with Eve, along with Adam – alas! – it kills us all." In the second part God visits Adam and Eve but they hide themselves. When he finds them and they tell him what happened he curses the serpent and tells Adam and Eve what the effects of their disobedience will be. The oratorio closes with another four-part chorus: "How little sweetness, how much, how much bitterness – alas, alas! – an apple brought to all!"

In particular the closing chorus from the first part of this oratorio is quite expressive as it opens with a descending line and includes harmonic progressions which reflect the bitterness that the text speaks about. These two oratorios are nice but not comparable with those by Carissimi. He was a master of text expression and was also able to create a real drama in a short space of time. However, it seems to me that it is also down to the performance that these oratorios come across as not really dramatic. The performances are a little too straightforward and not theatrical enough. The Consortium Carissimi has nice voices in its ranks but some are a bit bland. The text should also have received more attention. Filii prodigi is more theatrical than Adae and there the role of the textus comes off better than in the latter oratorio.

The disc starts with five motets for solo voices and basso continuo. They are taken from three collections which were printed in 1650, 1672 and 1676 respectively. The collection mentioned first is Graziani's op. 1 and was the first publication of compositions from his pen. They seem to have been written for various ecclesiastical feasts. O miracula, o prodigia is probably intended for the Advent period as it speaks about shepherds and ends with the words "behold, he is already near, behold, he comes". Quis dabit capiti meo may be written for Holy Week and Quid est hoc for Pentecost. The performances are generally good but again there are some issues which make the interpretations less than ideal. Some of the singers have problems with the coloratura, in other cases the parts include low notes which are a little uncomfortable for others. In Venite, audite the lowest notes are too weak. That could be due to the pitch which is a=415'. Maybe in this case a high tenor would have been more suitable than a mezzo-soprano as used here.

All in all, this is not a recording to get very excited about. However, Graziani's oeuvre seems well worth exploring. This disc was my first opportunity to hear any of his music and I certainly hope to hear more from him. Anyone who is interested in Italian music from this period should investigate this disc.

Johan van Veen


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