Francesco ROVIGO (c. 1541-1597)
Missa Dominicalis, Mottetti, Canzoni
Claudio MERULO (1533-1604)
Toccata Undecimo detto Quinto tuono [6.01]
Francesco ROVIGO (c. 1541-1597)
Canzon I [2.44]
Missa Dominicalis 5 voci
Kyrie, Christe, Kyrie [3.08]
Gloria [7.34]
Canzon V [3.20]
Credo [10.19]
Canzon XVIII 8 [3.19]
Laudem Te, 5 voci [2.44]
Sanctus [4.08]
[Elevazione] Et incarnatus [intavoluntara dalla Missa Apostolurum] [2.02]
Canzon VI [3.06]
Agnus Dei [2.27]
Canzon IV [3.37]
Canzon III [4.47]
Laudate Dominum in sanctis eius, 8 voci [4.58]
Umberto Forni (organ and direction)
Capelli Musicale di Santa Barbara
rec. Basilica Palatina di Sanata Barbara, Mantua, 4 December 2014, live.
TACTUS TC541801 [67.02]

This is a valuable recording for anyone interested in Monteverdi’s contemporaries and friends. He was an able organist, but none of his music for organ has survived. The first piece on the CD, the Toccata is an organ solo by Claudio Merula, under whom Rovigo studied in Venice.

Rovigo served as official organist at the Capella Palatina di St. Barbara, in Mantua for most of his adult life. The Duke of Mantua, Gugliemo Gonzaga, recognising his talent, had sent him to Merula. From 1583 until 1590, Rovigo was employed in Graz by the Archduke of Bavaria, despite the Duke of Mantua’s attempts to get him back. The pay was excellent in Graz – and in 1608, we find him protesting about his low wages in Mantua. His status was higher than his pay. He is buried in a place of honour in S. Barbara.

The mass on this CD was written for the patronal feast of St. Barbara. The structure is unusual. There are the conventional five elements, of Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus (with Benedictus incorporated) and Agnus Dei. These are interspersed with the surviving instrumental pieces by Rovigo, and two motets. An appropriate Et Incarnatus (‘and He became Man’) from the Missa Apostolorum is inserted to follow the Consecration and Elevation.

The unusual feature of the Mass is how, in the sung parts, complex polyphony is alternated with plainchant. For the latter, there are three male voices. Their music is accompanied by a regal, which was a kind of primitive organ, with two bellows, usually laid out on a table. The bellows are operated by a helper. The pipes are small brass reeds. The sound is rather nasal – in the plainsong parts, the effect is rather of a drone.

For this recording, the three (male) singers used for the plainchant are set back, with the five polyphonic singers (three male, two female) in the foreground. Instrumental accompaniment is provided by organ, cornetto (the wooden wind instrument, not the modern cornet), tenor trombone, viola da gamba and dulciana – the latter a double-reed wind instrument with a conical bore.

The recording has the advantage of being true to the music’s origins. The music itself has more than historic interest. Rovigo was – on this evidence – a figure of genuine stature, whose music does not simply go through the conventions of the time. There are many moments of surprise - and delight.

Performances are good – there are the inevitable squeaky moments created by live playing of renaissance instruments. Some of the instrumental playing might perhaps have been more characterful. Recording quality is acceptable, but not outstanding. Some strands in the polyphony might have emerged more clearly, but allowance must be made for live performance. The notes are informative, and the texts are given in Latin only for the Laudate Dominum and Laudem Te. The latter text, by an anonymous hand, was written over Rovigo’s setting for Ardo s ma non t’amo, a secular madrigal to words by Giovanni Battista Guarini. Whether Rovigo authorised the setting is unknown, but it works beautifully in an ecclesiastical context. There are no texts for the usual parts of the mass.

For anyone interested in the works of the time of Monteverdi and Palestrina, this is a fine supplement. To those unfamiliar, it is an excellent introduction to the richness of the Italian Renaissance musical world.

Michael Wilkinson

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