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Bonaventura RUBINO (1600-1668)
Messa de Morti à 5 concertata, 1653
Cappella Musicale di Santa Maria in Campitella di Roma; Studio di Musica Antica 'Anotonio il Verso' di Palermo; Ensemble La Cantoria/Vincenzo di Betta
Franco Vito Gaiezza (organ)*
Texts without translations downloadable from the Tactus website
TACTUS TC601803 [75:33]

The present disc takes us to Palermo in Sicily where Bonaventura Rubino worked for most of his life. Then again it may take us to Malta where the only extant copy of the collection which includes Rubino's Requiem is preserved and where this work may have been performed. The composer seems to have been a completely unknown quantity until his Messa de Morti appeared on disc. This is not only the first recording of this particular work, it seems very likely that never before has a single piece from his pen been recorded. The rear of this disc says "world premiere recording"; it is ironic that at the same time another performance of this same piece appeared on disc, under the direction of Leonardo García Alarcón (Ricercar RIC 353). In fact, both recordings took place in exactly the same month: June 2014. It is not a bad thing that two recordings exist, not only because it is a nice work but also because the two performances are quite different.

Let us first turn to the composer. Rubino was born in Montécchio di Darfo, near Brescia. New Grove doesn't mention his year of birth; apparently more recent research has resulted in 1600 being considered the year he was born. It seems that nothing is known about his formative years and the first stages of his career. He first appears as maestro di cappella of Palermo Cathedral in 1643; he held this post until early in 1668, the year of his death. He was held in high esteem: a contemporary called him "more skilful than Amphion, superior to Arion, a second Orpheus". He was a prolific composer: between 1645 and 1658 he published seven collections of sacred music, scored for two to eight voices and basso continuo, sometimes with additional parts for strings. His op. 2 includes masses and psalms for double choir. His op. 4 is a collection of motets for two to five voices and the Messa de Morti for five voices. It is one of only two extant Requiems written in Sicily from the 17th century. The other is from the pen of Mario Capuana which García Alarcón also recorded.

The rear of the Ricercar disc states that Rubino's Requiem is a "true apotheosis of Renaissance polyphony". That may be correct but it is only one aspect of this work. As is the case with many sacred compositions of the 17th century it is a mixture of the stile antico and the stile nuovo. Rubino was strongly inspired by Claudio Monteverdi, especially his Selva morale e spirituale and in that collection we see the same mixture. The Dies irae in Rubino's Requiem is a good example of this mixed style. It is divided into 17 sections; some of these are scored for five voices - here mostly sung by the choir - and others for one to three voices. The latter are written in the modern monodic style. This also manifests itself in the Libera me, the responsory which brings the work to a close. Whereas it is not known for which occasion this Requiem was written - not a single performance has been documented - the inclusion of the Libera me which is not a fixed part of the Requiem Mass, "reveals that this Mass was meant for solemn occasions, which were usually restricted to high-ranking ecclesiastics and state officials", as Niccolò Maccavino writes in his liner-notes. He is also responsible for the transcription of the Messa de Morti.

The solemnity of the occasion is reflected by the more old-fashioned sections of this work. In this performance it is further emphasized by its embedding in a liturgical framework. That is the main difference from García Alarcón's recording which only includes the music from Rubino's pen. The present recording opens with a sinfonia by Salomone Rossi. Then the Requiem starts with the Introitus. The music by Rubino alternates with plainchant, readings and prayers as well as organ pieces. However, this is not an attempt to present a liturgical reconstruction from a strictly historical angle. One of the organ pieces is from the pen of Johann Jacob Froberger and is taken from a collection published in 1693. It seems unlikely that Froberger's music was known in Palermo at all. The inclusion of instrumental music may raise some question marks as this was explicitly forbidden by the Church. However, it is mentioned that here and there exceptions were made, and that this was also the case in Sicily.

The Requiem is scored for five voices and bc. It is not possible to be sure how many singers were involved in performances of liturgical music in Rubino's time. Here the five-part sections are divided over the full choir, a small choir (cappella) and solo voices. In the tutti the voices are supported by two cornetts and three sackbuts playing colla voce. That is another difference from García Alarcón's performance as he confines himself to the basso continuo. An interesting issue here is the allocation of the various groups to different spaces in the church. "The polyphonic choral parts and the instrumental ones were performed in the main choir loft above the principal portal, while the solo parts were performed in the side choir loft above the chapels of the central nave. The parts entrusted to the officiant, deacon and subdeacon, and the servers' responses, were performed in the presbyteral area of the church". For that reason the latter sound from a distance and are not that easy to understand. The differing locations of the soloists and choir also mean that in the Dies irae the sound shifts from one spot to another. As the soloists are members of the choir this could never be realised in a live performance. From that perspective I am not so sure whether this was such a wise decision, especially as there seems to be no liturgical ground for the split between tutti and solo voices. Lastly, the organ items are played on a positive organ of 1635 in meantone temperament (1/4 comma).

Having listened to both this recording and the Ricercar disc - which will probably be reviewed in detail here by one of my colleagues - I consider them as complementary. The choir and the soloists in the Ricercar recording are generally superior, especially the lower voices. However, the liturgical framework lends the Tactus recording a character of its own, and the performances are very respectable. Especially the soprano and alto soloists are fine, and so is the playing of the instrumentalists, including Franco Vito Gaiezza who plays the organ works. If you are interested in this kind of music you may like to investigate both recordings. It is to be hoped that further pieces from Rubino's oeuvre will be performed and recorded.

Johan van Veen

Salomone ROSSI (c1570-1630)
Sinfonia grave a 5 (1607) [1:23]
Bonaventura RUBINO
Messa de Morti:
Requiem aeternam - Te decet hymnus [5:23]
Kyrie [1:53]
Deus indulgentiarum [0:51]
Epistola: Lectio libri Machabeorum [1:01]
Giacomo CARISSIMI (1605-1674) (attr)
Praeambulum tonus 1mus:
Verso 6 & 7* [1:18]
Absolve Domine [1:49]
Bonaventura RUBINO
Messa de Morti:
Sequentia: Dies irae [13:43]
Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Joannem: In illo tempore [1:44]
Bonaventura RUBINO
Messa de Morti:
Offertorium: Domine Jesu Christe [4:53]
Johann Jacob FROBERGER (1616-1667)
Ricercare IX* [5:40]
Prefatio sine cantu (from: Ordo Missae pro Defunctis) [1:54]
Bonaventura RUBINO
Messa de Morti:
Sanctus [2:13]
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643)
[Elevazione] Toccata VIII di durezze e ligature (1637)* [5:21]
Pater noster (from: Canon Missae) [1:46]
Bonaventura RUBINO
Messa de Morti:
Agnus Dei [2:04]
Salomone ROSSI
Sinfonia IX (1607) [1:54]
Bonaventura RUBINO
Messa de Morti:
Communio: Lux aeterna [1:12]
Requiem aeternam [0:59]
Postcommunio: Praesta quaesumus [0:50]
Johann Jacob FROBERGER
Ricercare V (1693)* [3:46]
Bonaventura RUBINO
Messa de Morti:
Responsorium: Libera me [6:20]
Absolutio super tumulum [1:56]
Francesco CAVALLI
Sinfonia (from: Missa pro defunctis, Libera me) [1:46]
Toccata II (1637)* [3:43]



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