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Venice 1629

The Gonzaga Band / Jamie Savan
rec. 2018, St Mary’s College Chapel, New Oscott, UK
Texts and translations included.

The new style which emerged in Italy around 1600 apparently exerted such a strong appeal on composers that a large amount of music was written and published. Venice had been the centre of music printing since the early 16th century, and this explains why so many editions came from the press there, not only of music written by composers from Venice itself, but from across Italy, such as Salomone Rossi, who worked in Mantua all his life.

How to make a choice from this large repertoire for a recording of vocal and instrumental music? The members of The Gonzaga Band hit upon the brilliant idea to take Heinrich Schütz as their starting point. Or – more precisely – the composer's second visit to Italy in the years 1628/29, during which he also visited Venice. He had been there from 1609 to 1612 to study with Giovanni Gabrieli. Although he continued to hold him in high esteem all his life, he was curious to become acquainted with the newest fashions in Italian music. Apparently he met Claudio Monteverdi, but he certainly got to know what was written in Venice and elsewhere. One of the composers who made an impression on him was Alessandro Grandi, for some years Monteverdi’s deputy at St Mark’s. Schütz adapted some of Grandi’s small-scale sacred concertos to a German text.

The programme includes two pieces from the Symphoniae Sacrae, which he published in Venice in 1629. The other pieces included here are also from collections published in that same year or prepared for publication in 1629. It is especially the more virtuosic part of the repertoire that is selected. Some of the most prominent composers are represented, but the programme also includes some lesser-known names, such as Orazio Tarditi, Giovanni Carrone and Benedetto Rè. Their music is of the same quality as the music by those masters who are today frequently performed. It just shows the extraordinary level of composing and music-making at the time.

The two main treble instruments of the time play a key role here: the cornett and the violin. These were often interchangeable, as in Biagio Marini's Canzon I which is for cornetts or violins. However, composers also explored the typical features of particular instruments. A good example of such a piece is again from Marini’s pen, the Capriccio, che due violini, sonano quattro parti. Here each of the two violins plays two parts: this means that the whole piece is dominated by double stopping. Obviously no other instrument can realise this score. Another interesting piece by Marini is the Sonata per l’organo, violino, ò cornetto: it must be one of the first pieces in history that is scored for an obbligato keyboard and a melody instrument. This was to become common much later, in the course of the 18th century.

The titles just mentioned indicate that the main genres of instrumental music are represented: the sonata and the canzon. Add to that some dances, such as the capriccio and corrente. The latter are taken from a collection of keyboard music by Martino Pesenti, who worked in Venice. It was very common at the time to add the name of a particular person to a piece. That is the case here as well, and the two names refer to other musicians, Alessandro Grandi and Giovanni Priuli respectively.

The early decades of the 17th century was a time of experiments, not only with regard to the exploration of the features of particular instruments, but also in the field of harmony. Marini’s Sonata senza cadenza is a brilliant example as it includes strong dissonances and marked chromaticism.

Another prominent feature of the stile nuovo is the use of the echo technique. It was frequently applied in vocal music, such as opera, and as instruments – especially the cornett – were expected to imitate the human voice, which was still considered the most important ‘instrument’, this technique was also used in instrumental music. Dario Castello’s Sonata XVII, in ecco, which closes the programme, is an impressive example. It was a nice gesture to put this piece after Schütz’s sacred concerto Exultavit cor meum, in which the echo technique is also applied.

In addition to instrumental music we get a number of vocal items. Some of these are for voice and basso continuo, but in others the voice is accompanied by obbligato instruments, and in some cases a piece includes a second vocal part which is performed here instrumentally. Ignazio Donati’s sacred concerto Maria virgo is for four voices and basso continuo, and here the voices can be substituted by instruments. In this case the first part is sung, the other three are played on cornetts. It is a perfect example of the exaltation of many pieces about the Virgin Mary, reflecting the importance of Marian veneration in the Counter Reformation.

Performing this kind of vocal music is technically demanding, in particular with regard to ornamentation and the application of dynamic contrasts through the use of the messa di voce. These tools were instrumental in order to communicate the emotions of a text which the composer translated into music. Faye Newton does a brilliant job here. Her performances are among the best I have heard in this kind of music recently. Too often vocal music is damaged by an incessant and wide vibrato or by a dynamically flat performance. Nothing of that here: the text takes central place, and she uses every means to bring out a piece’s content.

The playing of the instruments is quite impressive, both technically and stylistically. The individual efforts of the players of cornett and violin are outstanding, but the ensemble is also first class. I also would like to compliment the members of The Gonzaga Band on their choice of music and the way they have put together the programme. The vocal pieces by Monteverdi and Schütz may be rather well-known, but overall they have avoided the obvious: no fewer than seven pieces are first recordings and even some items which apparently have been recorded before are anything but commonly known.

Reasons enough to label this disc Recording of the Month.

Johan van Veen

Dario CASTELLO (1st half 17th C)
Sonata III [5:41]
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Exulta, filia Sion (SV 303) [5:19]
Biagio MARINI (1594-1663)
Canzon I, per quattro violini, ò cornetti [3:12]
Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672)
Paratum cor meum (SWV 257) [4:22]
Sonata per l'organo, violino, ò cornetto [3:47]
Alessandro GRANDI (1586-1630)
Regina caeli [3:04]
Martino PESENTI (c1600-c1648)
Corrente detta La Granda [2:00]
Orazio TARDITI (1602-1677)
Plaudite, cantate [4:32]
Capriccio, che due violini, sonano quattro parti [4:15]
Giovanni CARRONE (fl 1629)
Congratulamini mihi [2:48]
Ignazio DONATI (c1570-1638)
Maria Virgo [4:04]
Alessandro GRANDI
Salva me, salutaris hostia [3:43]
Benedetto RÈ (fl 1607-1629)
Lilia convallium [3:40]
Corrente detta La Priula [2:13]
Sonata senza cadenza [3:04]
Heinrich SCHÜTZ
Exultavit cor meum (SWV 258) [5:20]
Sonata XVII, in ecco [7:15]

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