Claudio MERULO (1533-1604)
Motets from Libro Primus Sacrarum Cantionum (1578)
Jamina Capitani (viola da gamba); Luca Marzetti (violone); Federico Tollis (organ); Roberto Caravella (theorbo)
Modus Ensemble/Mauro Marchetti
rec. 13 December 2014, San Rocco all Augusteo; 30-31 January 2015, San Silvestro, Tivoli; 15 March 2015, San Giuseppe da Copertino, Rome, Italy

Two years ago, I reviewed a disc of organ works by Claudio Merulo (Tactus TC531380) and it is as an organist that, if he is thought of at all, he will be remembered. In that capacity he has an important place in history. Today Merulo's main claim to fame is probably as the predecessor to Giovanni Gabrieli and then Monteverdi at St. Mark's in Venice. He may well have taught the young Monteverdi.

As a composer of sacred music he is hardly known so this disc should be a useful and attractive proposition. We are talking about twenty motets, mostly in four parts, performed by young Italian voices and sometimes accompanied by gamba, or violone or theorbo or organ. They are sometimes a capella, sometimes a solo voice with an instrumental accompaniment.

The texts cover the whole gamut of the church’s year from Christmas (Hodie beata virgo Maria) to Easter (Haec est dies) to Trinity (O Adoranda Trinitas). There are other texts for special occasions like Cunque beatissimus Marcus Evangelista which I suspect was for a feast day celebration in the great cathedral.

This CD comes in at budget price but sadly there is not much that I really care for in these performances. Firstly, the playing time is incredibly ungenerous even allowing for such rare repertoire. Secondly, the recording sessions which for some reason took place in three venues, have not allowed a consistent acoustical response. Thirdly, there are no text translations offered only the Latin ones and only a very brief biographical/musical essay yet a fairly large space is offered to the artist biographies especially that of conductor Mauro Marchetti. Fourthly, the vocal balance is a little odd with the thin tone of soprano Sabrina Cortese lost in some environments, the lower voices being favoured. In addition I can’t say that Merulo’s invention ever reaches beyond the normal expectations of his day. Imitative entries of the usual kind and a rather bland harmonic language are not helped by the rather unvaried dynamic employed by the voices. It comes as quite a relief when a solo voice, like that of the fine counter-tenor Stefano Guadagnini, is heard but these tracks are somewhat randomly placed. It would have helped also if there had been more of a gap (other than 2 or 3 seconds) between the tracks.

This is the debut recording of the Modus Ensemble and I am sure that they will go on to better things. It may well be that this music deserves more of a chance but I’m sorry to say that this disc does not, to my mind, present it at its best. Very disappointing.

Gary Higginson

Track listing
1. Salvator noster, dilectissimi [3.38]
2. Stephanus autem plenus gratia [2.33]
3. Maximum hoc omnium [2.55]
4. Innocentes pro Christo [2.14]
5. O admirabile commercium [2.43]
6. Tribes miraculis ornatum diem [2.03]
7. Bonum certamen certavi [2.21]
8. Hodie beata Virgo Maria [1.38]
9. Ave Maria [2.17]
10. Haec est dies [2.06]
11. Sancti et justi [1.52]
12. Cumque beatissimus Marcus Evangelista [2.14]
13. Ascendens Christus in alium [1.51]
14. Hodie Spiritus Sanctus [1.58]
15. O Adorando Trinitas [2.23]
16. Ego sum panis vivus [2.10]
17. Puer qui natus est [1.50]
18. Tu es Petrus [2.12]
19. Beata Elisabeth [1.55]
20. Maria unxit pedes Jesu [2.16]

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