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Pellegrino SANTUCCI (1921-2010)
Comaci Boschi (flute), Daniela Nuzzoli (mezzo-soprano and violin), Raul Hernandez (tenor), Agatha Bocedi (harp), Giuliano Giuliani (Cor Anglais)
Schola Cantorum Paolo Guglielmetti/Antonio Quero (trumpet)
I Solisti Laudensi/Fabio Merlini
Giuseppe Monari (organ)
rec. July 2015, Church of S. Maria Assunta, Agazzano; 3 July 2016, Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Trebaseleghe, Padova, Italy
TACTUS TC921980 [3 CDs: 190:40]

Those of us who despair at the demise of liturgical music, who walk into churches and walk out again at the sight of drum kits, guitars and amplified vocalists, who wonder about a God for whom the greatest music in history was once written but who now seems content to accept the unimaginative drivel of watered-down rock and half-hearted disco, should find succour in this generous three-CD set.

Giuseppe Monari’s excellent booklet essay gives us a vivid picture of Pellegrino Santucci, a man who so despaired at the state of liturgical music that he dedicated one of his compositions “to the gravediggers of Sacred Music”. We read that he was “in love with the Church, the Virgin Mary, Gregorian chant, Bach, and everything handed down by the great traditions of the past”, and found it intolerable not just that church music had been “obscenely profaned by the worst pop and rock music” but that this profanity had been “fuelled from within the church, or at least not prevented by it”.

Monari provides an extensive biographical picture of Cesio Santucci (to give him his baptismal name) who was ordained priest in 1944 and three years later appointed Kapellmeister at the Basilica of Santa Maria dei Servi in Bologna, where he built up the Capella Musicale into a leading centre for musicological research and performances of sacred music. He went on to teach composition in Pesaro, Florence, Venice and Rome, but remained closely associated with Bologna until his death in 2010. He was himself an active musicologist specialising in the music of Bach, a distinguished organist and an extraordinarily prolific composer whose output included symphonic works and concertos but was dominated by sacred works or all shapes and sizes. It seems his music has never before been available on disc, but this release does not so much offer a glimpse of an overlooked composer, but allows us to gorge on over three hours of original compositions.

The most interesting thing about this music is that while it, of course, does not cross into the realms of the kind of tat which today is synonymous with church music and retains a strong aura of tradition in its fundamentally diatonic idiom, it most certainly is not in any way conservative or retrospective. Only with La Cometa Kohoutek, an extended nine-section organ work inspired by the discovery of a new comet in 1973, do we venture into musical styles which were, at the time, truly forward-looking – clusters and fragmented melodic motifs. Otherwise Santucci’s music is fresh and distinctive, and if a comparison was needed we might find the strongest one in his Belgian contemporary, Flor Peeters, not least in its frequent use of acerbically harmonized Gregorian chants.

Particularly interesting is the use of various combinations of instruments with organ, and while some of the more arresting pieces involve solo voices – notably the two settings of the Ave Maria for mezzo-soprano and organ and tenor and organ and the gorgeous Sub tuum praesidium for mezzo, tenor and organ – those which combine organ with flute, trumpet, harp or Cor Anglais reveal a very astute tonal palette.

Each of the three discs is dominated by a substantial single work – the 28 minute Vita di Maria on disc one, the 50 minute Il Laudario di Cortona on disc two and the 18 minute La Cometa Kohoutek on disc three – but these are all, in effect, collections of short character pieces. Santucci was, when it came to sacred music at least, a gifted miniaturist, with only a tiny handful of the 42 individual tracks going significantly over the five minute mark. I find the three self-styled “Short Scenes for violin and organ” collectively titled Piccoli Quadretti rather uneven, but everything else has a sense of musical integrity and thorough workmanship which, while it does not have any pretentions to equal the towering genius of those sacred composers for whom Santucci was obviously in awe, this is all clearly many steps above the usual liturgical fare. Were this sort of music to feature in my local church each week, I would trot along gaily with a light heart and an open soul.

Playing through the first disc, I was much taken by the writing for flute and organ in the 12 short pieces which constitute Vita di Maria, but I did find Comaci Boschi a little too restrained and strait-laced to bring this music really to life or prevent a lurking sense of same-ness creeping into the overall listening experience. Similarly, Agatha Bocedi seems unnecessarily placid in the two finely-crafted pieces for organ and harp – Alleluja Modo II and Wachet auf. The sheer originality of the Cor Anglais/organ combination for Oratio Jeremiae Prophetae sidesteps any shortcomings in the performance itself. It is the trumpet which seems to have attracted Santucci the most, and which is the most successful in performance here. In addition to Il Laudario di Cortana and the five Composizioni per tromba e organo there is a neat little Berceuse for trumpet, strings and organ as well as a highly impressive Alleluja – O filii et filiae for choir, trumpet and organ. The trumpet is consistently sensitively and effectively played by Antonio Quero who also serves as conductor to the choir itself.

Quero is not the only performer to be involved in the disc in more than one capacity. In fact, there is something vaguely incestuous about the entire performing body. Quero conducts a choir which seems to take its name from the double bass player of I Solisti Laudensi whose close (and possibly distant) relatives also feature in the list of choral singers. Daniela Nuzzoli, who plays viola in the orchestra, is not only the violin soloist in the Piccoli Quadretti but also the fruity voiced mezzo-soprano soloist. Giuseppe Monari is not only the hard working and very able organist (Ite missa est ventures into the realms of virtuoso display – albeit for just a brief three-and-a-half minutes – while La Cometa Kohoutek demands both a resourceful organ and a resourceful organist, and gets them both here) but is also credited with engineering, editing and mastering the very fine recording; and he wrote the very extensive and detailed booklet notes.

The performances may not all be of the very first order in terms of pure technical ability and interpretative intensity, and the music itself may not always sustain interest for more than a few minutes at a time. But the performances show real affection and deep admiration for Santucci’s work. The music not only possesses real artistic and spiritual integrity, but is undeniably attractive.

Marc Rochester

Disc contents
Vita di Maria – 12 scenes for flute and organ [28:32]
Berceuse for trumpet and organ [3:39]
Alleluja Modo II for harp and organ [3:44]
Wachet auf for harp and organ [4:25]
Oratio Jeremiae Prophetae for Cor Anglais and organ [6:06]
Janua coeli for organ [2:17]
Ite missa est for organ [3:33]
Alleluja - O filii et filiae for choir, trumpet and organ [7:43]
Ave Maria for mezzo-soprano, chorus and organ [4:23]
Ave Maria for unaccompanied choir [3:13]
Ave Maria for mezzo-soprano and organ [3:52]
Ave Maria for tenor and organ [3:41]
Il Laudario di Cortona – eight pieces for trumpet and organ [51:01]
Sub tuum praesidium – for female choir and organ [2:34]
Piccoli Quadretti – for violin and organ [15:01]
5 Pieces for Trumpet and Organ [22:08]
La Cometa Kohoutek for organ [18:34]

 




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