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Alessandro GRANDI (1590-1630)
Celesti Fiori
O quam pulcra es [3.21]
Plorabo [6.21] Lillia [2.27]
in semita [2.49]
O bone Jesu [3.02]
Date nomine ejus [5.13]
Heu mihi [4.47]
Salvum fac [3.49]
Bone Jesu [5.30] Verbum Patris [5.40]
Domine ne in furore tuo[3.55]
Surge propera [3.45]
Factum est silentium [3.15]
Vidi spetiosum [3.07] Veniat dilectus meus [4.26]
Nisi Dominus [6.34]
Academia d’Arcania and the UtFaSol Ensemble/Alessandro Rossi Lürig
rec. 2018, Basilica Palatina di Santa Barbara, Mantua, Italy
ARCANA A464 [62.39]

Alessandro Grandi may have been born of humble stock but he rose to the highest rank of court and church musician in his all too brief life of forty years and was even considered the equal of the divine Monteverdi. He moved around between Venice, Ferrara and other significant centres. In addition he was extraordinarily prolific and is often credited with being the first to compose a solo cantata.

The ‘Academia d’Arcadi’ has selected highlights from seven of his collections with slightly more emphasis on the first two of 1610 and 1613. The title of disc is taken from Grandi’s 1619 publication his Libro Quinto de suoi Concerti scored for two, three or four voices .

The vocal ensemble consists of nine voices with theorbo and organ, and the extra instrumental group (the UtFaSol Ensemble) has five players of cornetti and sackbut. The music is astonishingly expressive and these performances really bring out these qualities to the full. The programme is so arranged that variety is achieved from track to track both vocal and instrumental.

Not all of the motets require the instrumental ensemble but when used Grandi’s approach is to employ them not only to open some motets but also to add to and punctuate the verses as in Lillia. The inspiration of this text which concerns an adoration of the Virgin Mary may be from The Song of Songs that wonderfully erotic Old Testament book, so beloved of early baroque composers, as heard in Surge Propera and Veniat Dilectus Meus . Other texts recorded here are from the psalms as in Domine ne in furore tuo (psalm 6) and Nisi Dominus (no. 127).

Word setting is always very expressive and one can discover some subtle word painting though at other moments more obvious as in Heu Mihi, a conversation between the penitent writer and God, with a Monteverdian echo effect at the end of lines representing God’s response to the prayer.

Grandi is a good example of a composer of the ‘seconda pratica’ or ‘stile moderno’ in which, to quote Alessandro Rossi Lürig’s essay ‘Sacred Passions’, the composer shows “attention to the text and a taste for contrasts…..with unusual harmonic progressions showing many features of the mature Monteverdi”. These pieces show “the development of the concertante style”. A good example would be in the motet Surge Propera (Rise up quickly my friend , my dove) from the 1616 Fourth book of motets. The opening is given to a baritone with organ and the next lines to a soprano accompanied by a theorbo. So they alternate conversationally as the text is divided between the beloved female and the coaxing male voice. She sings for example “That is the voice of my beloved calling” and he replies “Come my friend/the voice of the turtle-dove is heard in the land” then they sing together for the final two lines.

Grandi also wrote secular works and some of that lighter language washes off successfully for example in Date Nomine Eius.

The voices are used almost economically. There being, as indicated, solo passages, then duets. When the section is complete those two voices drop out and allow another two to take over, contrasting upper with lower and only bringing them together at the climax point.

The disc is beautifully presented in a firm cardboard case with the booklet inside. This consists of photographs, full texts, which are well translated, as well as the brief essay mentioned above. There is a very useful outline of the composer’s life and development by Rudolfo Baroncini entitled A Venetian Genius.

This disc acts as a fascinating, well-engineered introduction to a composer whose reputation should be higher than it is at present. It has been recorded in a superb baroque church in Mantua and is sensitively performed with clarity and passion.

Gary Higginson

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