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Monteverdi in San Marco
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567 - 1643)
Messa a 4 voci da cappella (SV 190) [26:35]
Gloria a 7 voci concertato (SV 258) [13:30]
Biagio MARINI (1594-1663)
Sinfonia [op. 22, 1655] [1:39]
Pianto della Madonna (SV 22) [7:40]
Laetaniae della Beata Vergine (SV 204) [11:11]
Odhecaton, La Pifarescha/Paolo Da Col
rec. 2017, Church of San Pietro, Belluno, Italy
Texts and translations included
ARCANA A447 [60:38]

Claudio Monteverdi can be considered one of the most prominent representatives of the stile nuovo, which emerged in Italy around 1600. Both his first opera L'Orfeo and his later madrigal books bear witness to that. However, the embracing of the new style, among whose features are a declamatory way of singing, the predominance of the text over music, the use of a basso continuo part and virtuosic writing for instruments, did not mean that the stile antico immediately became obsolete. Monteverdi’s own collection of 1610, which includes the Vespro della Beata Vergine, demonstrates that the two styles coexisted, and were sometimes merged. That is the case, for instance, in some of the psalm settings in his Vespers. In that same work we find specimens of pure monody, the so-called concerti.

That co-existence of old and new was not confined to the early decades of the 17th century, but was in fact a feature of the whole baroque era. The present disc includes pieces from the later stages of Monteverdi’s career, and these are expressions of the two styles.

The programme opens with the Messa a 4 voci da cappella. It is taken from the collection of music by Monteverdi which was published posthumously in 1650 by Alessandro Vincenti. It is one of three masses from Monteverdi’s pen which have come down to us. He must have written more, because the composition of a mass for Christmas Eve each year was part of his duties as maestro di cappella at St Mark’s in Venice. The best-known of the three masses is the one for six voices which was included in the 1610 collection, together with the Vespers. That mass is a so-called parody mass, which Monteverdi based on the motet In illo tempore by Nicolas Gombert. The mass recorded here is not based on pre-existing music. Even so, the work is held together through the use of a single motif which presents itself at the very start of the Kyrie. Although this mass, like the two previous ones, is written in the stile antico, the modern style is not entirely absent, as the voices are supported by a basso continuo. In this recording the mass is sung by the male voices of Odhecaton.

The second mass is included in one of Monteverdi’s largest collections of sacred music, published in 1641 under the title of Selva morale e spirituale. That collection includes a wide variety of pieces: spiritual madrigals on Italian texts, mass-movements, psalm settings for the Vespers of male saints, concertos and liturgical chants. It also contains some parts of the mass: settings of the Crucifixus, Et resurrexit and Et iterum venturus est as well as a setting of the Gloria. John Whenham, in his liner-notes, suggests that the latter may have been intended as a substitute for the ‘Gloria’ in a mass in the stile antico. This setting is for seven voices which open and close the work, and which, in between, sing the various sections in different combinations of voices. In addition Monteverdi included instrumental parts for two violins and four sackbuts or viole da brazzo; the former option is chosen here. This Gloria receives an excellent performance; in the tutti the voices blend perfectly, and the individual voices show their qualities in the verses for smaller scorings. There is some nice and stylish ornamentation.

The second piece from the Selva morale e spirituale is the Lamento della Madonna, a contrafactum of the famous Lamento d'Arianna from Monteverdi’s (now lost) opera. This lamento was already famous in the composer’s time, and this explains why this piece was included with a new sacred text. In this form it is a lament of Mary about the suffering and death of her son at the Cross. The new text is just as expressive as the original one, and the setting as a monody allows for a close connection between text and music. Its character is explored to the full here by Alena Dantcheva, who delivers an impressive performance. Maybe she could have taken a bit more rhythmic freedom, but that is only a marginal comment. She effectively uses the messa di voce and adds some stylish ornamentation, without exaggeration. The text is always in the centre of things, as it should be.

The disc ends with the Laetaniae della Beata Vergine, one of many settings of this text from the 17th century. Monteverdi’s setting is closely connected to the Marian devotion which had become quite prominent in Venice in the wake of the city’s victory over the Turks at the battle of Lepanto in 1571. According to Pope Pius V, this had been the result of the intervention of the Madonna of the Rosary. The Laetaniae open with the Kyrie, which is followed by invocations of the three Persons of the Trinity, and then a long series of invocations of the Virgin Mary, who is given many different qualifications: ‘Mother most pure’, ‘Mother most admirable’ or ‘Virgin most merciful’, and then a series of titles, such as ‘Mystical Rose’, ‘Spiritual Vessel’, ‘Gate of Heaven’ and ‘Queen of Martyrs’. The work ends with the Agnus Dei. This piece is homophonic and scored for six voices, which now and then sing in alternation.

It brings to a close a compelling disc with music by a composer whose music is often performed. However, with the exception of the Lamento della Madonna, the pieces recorded here rank among Monteverdi’s lesser known, and therefore this disc is a useful addition to the discography. An additional reason to welcome it enthusiastically, is the quality of the performances. I have not always been positive about performances and recordings by this ensemble, but there is nothing to complain about on the present disc. The singing is excellent throughout, both in the solo episodes and in the tutti. The instruments add colour and dynamics.

Monteverdi's music is always exciting, and that is well conveyed here.

Johan van Veen


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