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Francesco CAVALLI (1602-1676)
Vespero della Beata Vergine Maria
Chiharu Kubo (soprano), Jacopo Facchini (alto), Fabio Furnari (tenor), Alessandro Ravasio (bass) [coro I]
Igor Denti (alto), Teo Aroni, Ciro Aroni (tenor), Piermarco Viñas (bass) [coro II]
Coro Claudio Monteverdi di Crema, Schola Gregoriana, La Pifarescha/Bruno Gini
rec. May/October 2016, Chiesa Cistercense, Abbadia Cerreto, Italy DDD
Texts included, no translations
DYNAMIC CDS7782 [62:32]

For a considerable time Francesco Cavalli has remained in the shadow of his predecessor, Claudio Monteverdi. It is only fairly recently that he has been discovered as a composer of first-class operas. René Jacobs has been one of the pioneers in the exploration of his output for the stage. However, Cavalli also played a major role in sacred music. In 1616 he joined the Chapel of St Mark's, under the direction of Monteverdi, and was organist from 1620 to 1639 in the Church of the Saints John and Paul. In 1668 he was appointed maestro di cappella, a position he held until his death.

Cavalli composed a respectable number of sacred works but it seems he was rather reluctant to publish his compositions. That is especially notable as it was quite common to publish sacred music which could be used by chapels elsewhere whose maestri di cappella were less skilled in writing music. The lack of organ works from Cavalli's pen - despite his acting as organist in St Mark's for so many years - is far less surprising, as organists were expected to improvise.

The largest part of Cavalli's sacred music was published in two collections. The first dates from 1656 and is entitled Musiche sacre. It includes a mass, psalms, hymns, antiphons and sonatas. The second collection came from the press in 1675, one year before the composer's death. Here we find the music for three complete Vespers, with partly different selections of psalms. Two of these Vespers have already been recorded by Bruno Gini: the Vespero delle cinque Laudate (Dynamic, 2006) and the Vespero delle Domeniche see review). The present disc includes the music of the third Vespers, which in its content shows strong similarity with the Vespers of Claudio Monteverdi.

Cavalli's Vespers comprise the same five psalms: Dixit Dominus, Laudate pueri, Laetatus sum, Nisi Dominus and Lauda Jerusalem. The collection closes with a setting of the Magnificat. There are also differences. Cavalli omits the hymn Ave maris stella; it is included here in plainchant. Monteverdi's collection opens with a concertato setting of the response Domine ad adiuvandum me festina. That is omitted here; this response and the preceding introductory prayer Deus in adiutorium meum are also sung in plainchant. What is remarkable in Monteverdi's Vespers are the concertos for solo voices. That music was not part of the Vespers; if we take Monteverdi's Vespers as a unity they were intended as substitutions for the antiphons repeated after every psalm. Nothing of the kind is included in Cavalli's Vespers. He offers only the ordinary parts of the Vesper service. In this recording the psalms and the Magnificat are preceded by an antiphon in plainchant. As this is not repeated this recording can not be considered a liturgical reconstruction. It is a bit of a shame that the performers did not decide to use Cavalli's instrumental works - a number of sonatas from the 1656 collection - as substitutions of the repeated antiphons which was a very common practice at the time. Two sonatas are included here, but they don't have any liturgical function.

The scoring of Cavalli's Vespers is also different from Monteverdi's. All the pieces are for eight voices in two choirs. The cori spezzati technique is used in different ways. Sometimes the two choirs sing in alternation, in the tradition of antiphonal singing known from ancient times. There are also episodes in which the second choir repeats the phrase of the first. At certain moments the two choirs join each other to emphasize specific phrases. Together they open Dixit Dominus with its first word, as a kind of motto.

In music for two or more choirs, the splendour and the sound effect of the two opposing choirs is more important than text expression. However, there are several moments where we find some text illustration, for instance in Dixit Dominus where the word "conquassabit" (shattered) is sung on staccato chords by the tutti.

In addition to the Vespers, this disc includes four Marian antiphons from the 1656 collection. Ave Regina coelorum is for tenor, bass and basso continuo; they are joined by an alto in Regina coeli and Salve Regina. In particular, the latter is a highly expressive piece. Alma Redemptoris mater is for the tutti.

These pieces are nicely sung; the booklet doesn't mention which of the soloists are involved here. The tenor is not as fluent in the coloratura as one would wish; the bass does better. The alto is also good, but his part is rather low and probably intended for a high tenor as was pretty common at the time.

The psalms and the Magnificat are quite well sung, although - as I observed in my review of the previous recording - these ensembles are not really top class. There is some lack of synchronization, which is probably due to the acoustical circumstances. However, it is not as bad, by far, as in the plainchant, where the soloist and the schola almost constantly desynchronize. That is a real blot on this production and should have been corrected.

As far as I know, this is the only recording of these Vespers and because of that it should be welcomed. If you are interested in this repertoire you should investigate it. The performances are good enough to allow enjoyment. That said, I sincerely hope that a first-rate ensemble will take care of Cavalli's sacred music. A complete recording is long overdue.

Johan van Veen

[Incipit] Deus in adiutorium meum intende [0:58]
[Antiphona] Ave Maria [0:24]
Francesco CAVALLI
[Psalmus 109] Dixit Dominus [6:05]
[Antiphona] Beata Mater [0:35]
Francesco CAVALLI
[Psalmus 112] Laudate pueri [2:51]
[Antiphona] Nigra sum [0:30]
Francesco CAVALLI
[Psalmus 121] Laetatus sum [3:30]
[Antiphona] Laeva ejus [0:25]
Francesco CAVALLI
[Psalmus 126] Nisi Dominus [3:21]
[Antiphona] Speciosa facta es [0:23]
Francesco CAVALLI
[Psalmus 147] Lauda Jerusalem [3:42]
[Hymnus] Ave maris stella [3:15]
[Antiphona] Virgo potens [0:36]
Francesco CAVALLI
[Canticum] Magnificat 05:24]
Sonata a 6 [[4:52]
Ave Regina coelorum [5:48]
Regina coeli laetare [4:16]
Salve Regina [6:14]
Alma redemptoris mater [5:26]
Canzon a 4 [4:51]



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