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Sisto REINA (1619/23-1664)
Armonia Ecclesiastica, Opera Quinta, 1653
Domine ad adiuvandum 5 [2:05]
Domine ad adiuvandum 2. Canto e Alto [2:36]
Dixit 5 [6:02]
Confitebor 5 [4:55]
Confitebor 2. Canto e Alto [9:14]
Confitebor 3. Canto, Alto, e Basso [8:23]
Beatus 5 [6:20]
Beatus 4 [10:36]
Laudate pueri 5 [4:54]
Laudate pueri 3. Canto, Alto, e Basso [6:06]
Laudate Dominum omnes gentes 5 [2:41]
Magnificat 5 [5:00]
Litanie della Beata Vergine Maria 5 [5:11]
Vera Milani (soprano), Marta Fumagalli (contralto), Fulvio Peletti (bass)
Concentus Vocum/Michelangelo Gabbrielli
Rec. February 2013 at the Newart Recording Studio, Uboldo (VA), Italy DDD
Texts without translations available online
TACTUS TC621801 [74:55]

Sisto Reina is one of the many Italian composers of the 17th century who have sunk into almost complete oblivion. Thanks to the revival of the interest in early music, in combination with the dissemination of historical performance practice, composers like Reina are being taken off the shelf. The booklet mentions other composers of his generation who share Reina's fate. It is to be hoped that at least some of them will also become better known.

Reina was born in Saronno, near Milan, into a noble family and received the name of Gioseffo. The year of his birth is not known, but on the basis of existing documentation and his first printed music it is assumed he was born between 1619 and 1623. In 1641 he adopted the name of Sisto and started a career in the church. In 1648 he became a subdeacon, two years later he is referred to as a priest. He belonged to the Order of the Friars Minor Conventual. Around 1650 he acted as organist of the Franciscan convent in Saronno and of the Santuario. At this time his first collections of sacred works were published. In 1659 he left Saronno and in the following years he worked in Bologna and then in Piacenza; he again published some collections of music. In 1662 he held the post of organist at the Chiesa di San Bartolomeo and of maestro di cappella at the Chiesa di San Francesco in Modena. At this time his last extant collection of music was printed. The year of his death is not known for sure, but as there are no traces of any activities after 1664 it is assumed that he died that year. His music must have been greatly appreciated, as compositions from his pen are found across Europe, as far away as Poland and England.

Eight collections of his work have been preserved, from the Op. 1 (1648) to the Op. 9 (1664); the Op. 2 has been lost. The present disc is devoted to Op. 5, published in Milan in 1653 under the title of Armonia ecclesiastica. In his liner-notes Michelangelo Gabbrielli writes that the collections which were printed during Reina's period in Saronno contain a great number of references to female figures in convents. In Lombardy - the region around Milan - there were many nunneries which had excellent singers and instrumentalists at their disposal. It seems possible that Reina's music was intended for such convents. Further evidence is the fact that the Op. 5 was dedicated to Princess Angelica Luigia Mariana Gonzaga, nun in the convent of S. Paolo in Milan. It is also notable that in those pieces explicitly intended for solo voices, soprano and alto dominate. However, this leaves the question of how the low parts were performed. Several pieces for solo voices include a bass part and the same goes for all the pieces for four or five voices.

This collection includes music for Vespers: the responsory Domine ad adiuvandum, the five Vesper Psalms and the Magnificat, as well as the Litanie della Beata Vergine Maria. It is notable that Reina offers various alternatives. Three settings of Confitebor tibi Domine are included, for five, two and three voices with basso continuo respectively. This is probably inspired by the fact that not all churches or convents had the same possibilities in regard to performance. However, Gabbrielli emphasizes that the larger pieces are not necessarily technically easier than those for solo voices.

This brings to the issue of the line-up. The four- and five-part pieces are mostly sung by the choir which consists of eighteen singers. In the Beatus vir a 4 some passages are sung by solo voices. However, other pieces include some episodes with quite extensive coloratura which are sung by one section of the choir, for instance in the Beatus vir a 5 and the Laudate pueri a 5. I am a bit puzzled by this difference. I could not find any scores on the internet and therefore I am not in a position to check whether the composer has given any indication in regard to tutti or soli. Overall it seems to me that longer episodes with coloratura are intended for solo voices. Moreover, the scoring for four or five voices doesn't necessarily indicate a larger ensemble. It seems perfectly possible - and maybe historically even more plausible - to perform all these pieces with one voice per part, maybe with the addition of one ripieno voice to each of them.

Stylistically there is no fundamental difference between the four- and five-part pieces on the one hand and the pieces for solo voices on the other hand. Obviously in the latter we find the influence of the seconda prattica, the monodic style which emerged in the early 17th century. The pieces for four and five voices are dominated by counterpoint, but - as I already indicated - these also include concertante elements. We find here the same mixture of the stile antico and the stile nuovo as, for instance, in many of Monteverdi's sacred works.

The qualities of Reina's music come off quite well in these performances. Although I probably would have preferred a smaller ensemble, the singing of the tutti is very good. Vera Milani and Marta Fumagalli are excellent. It is just a shame that the former is a bit too dominant: when they sing together, Fumagalli being almost overshadowed by her colleague. Fulvio Peletti is alright, but I don't like his voice very much as it is a shade too pathetic and too 'woolly'; I would prefer a firmer and clearer voice with better diction.

The liner-notes don't make it crystal clear whether this disc includes the complete Op. 5 or a selection. I assume the latter is the case: if there are three settings of Confitebor tibi Domine and two of some other Psalms, it seems plausible to assume that other pieces, such as Dixit Dominus, also have their counterpart in other scorings. Anyhow, this disc is of great importance and if you like to expand your musical horizons there is every reason to investigate it.

Johan van Veen



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