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Scintillate, amicę stellę
Il Natale nei conventi italiani tra Cinquecento e Seicento (Christmas in the Convents of 16th- and 17th-Century Italy)
Francesco Rognoni TAEGGIO (1570-1626)
Puer Natus (Messa, salmi intieri e spezzate, 1610) [3:07]
Agostino SODERINI (fl.1608)
O Maria (Sacracrum cantionum I, 1598) [3:50]
Rosa Giacinta BADALLA (1660-1710)
Scintillate Amicę Stellę (Motetti a voce sola, 1684) [7:22]
Domenico MASSENZIO (1586-1657)
Noč Noč (Sacri Motetti, Op.10, 1631) [3:41]
Magi Videntes Stellam (1631) [2:26]
Chiara Margarita COZZOLANI (1602-1678)
Ecce annuntio vobis (Concerti sacri, Op.2, 1642) [7:47]
Caterina ASSANDRA (1590-after 1618)
Hodie Christus (Motetti, Op.2, 1609, ed. Bruce Dickey) [4:08]
Gregorian Chant (1606 Venetian Antiphonary):
Hodie nobis Cęlorum Rex [1:46]
Andrea ROTA (1553-1597)
Hodie Christus natus est (Motectorum I, 1588) [3:39]
Tiburzio MASSAINO (1550-after 1608)
Quem vidistis Pastores? (Sacri cantus II, 1580) [2:24]
Sisto REINA (1623-after 1664)
Silentium (Fiorita corona di melodia celeste, 1660) [5:50]
Daniel SPEER (1636-1707)
O pręclara Dies (Philomela angelica cantionum sacrarum, 1688) [8:27]
Giovanni Battista STRATA (fl.1609-1651)
O Maria che giubilante partoristi (Arie di musica, 1610) [3:53]
Gasparo CASATI (c.1610-1641)
Natus est Iesus (Terzo libro de sacri concenti, 1640) [3:57]
Maria Xaveria PERUCONA (1652-after 1709)
Ad Gaudia, ad Iubila (Sacri motetti, 1675) [6:08]
Isabella LEONARDA (1620-1704)
Gloria in Excelsis Deo (Motetti, con le litanie della Beata Vergine, Op.10, 1684) [9:41]
Cappella Artemisia/Candace Smith
rec. S. Cristina della Fondazza Bologna, Italy, June 2011. DDD.
Texts not included but reportedly available from Tactus website.
TACTUS TC280003 [79:12] 

Every year I look out for recordings of Christmas music which are not likely to be forgotten after December 25th., but can be enjoyed all year round. Such is this collection of music for Italian convents in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It deserves your attention for another reason, too, in that much of the music was composed by women and it’s performed here by the (almost) all-female Cappella Artemisia, named after the painter Artemisia Gentileschi, whose work is widely considered superior to that of her father Orazio. (See What Artemisia Heard, Sono Luminus DSL12195 – review review – and Et manchi pietą, Dynamic CDS7829 – review.)

Some of the male composers featured don’t get too much of an outing, but it’s the work of the women, mostly nuns from aristocratic families, that I have concentrated on.

Don’t expect much of what I call the ‘jolly japes’ school of Christmas music; the nearest that you will find is Domenico Massenzio’s Noč Noč, with its repeated refrain of ‘good news’. That doesn’t mean that the other items are dull – far from it. The work which gives its name to the album, Rosa Badalla’s Scinitillate, amicę stellę, Shine out, you friendly stars, may not be as overt in its rejoicing, but its celebration of the Christmas message is just as lively in its quieter way.

There’s plenty of joy, too, in works such as the two which close the programme. Isabella Leonarda’s Gloria in Excelsis, which makes use of folk tunes associated with the Nativity, provides just the right concluding note. Isabella Leonarda has two Tactus recordings to herself. Her twelve instrumental Sonatas, Op.16, are performed by Capella Strumentale del Duomo di Navarra (TC623701) and her Vespro a cappella della Beata Vergine, Op.11, are on TC623702 – unaccompanied settings but interspersed with organ music by Cima and Frescobaldi.

I’m grateful to BBC Radio 3 for introducing me to the music of the aristocratic nun Maria Xaveria Perucona. Her Ad Gaudia, ad Iubila on the penultimate track is such a little gem that it encouraged me to search for other examples of her music. Happily, Tactus and Cappella Artemisia have recorded several of these: her Holy Week motet Cessate tympana, another of her Sacri motetti, features on a Brilliant Classics bargain, presumably derived from Tactus (94638).

Another Brilliant Classics recording from Cappella Artemisia also features music of a predominantly penitential character: Lacrime Amare (bitter tears), a programme of the music, published in 1691, of Bianca Maria Meda (1661?–1732/33) (95736).  More music by Maria Perucona, O superbi mundi machina, features on another Tactus recording with Cappella Artemisia, on which all the music is by female composers, including several of those on the Christmas album (Rosa Mistica, TC600003).

Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, another nun from an aristocratic family, whose Ecce annuntio vobis sets the words of the angels to the shepherds, has a whole Tactus recording devoted exclusively to her Christmas Vespers (1650), taken from her Salmi a otto concertati motetti et dialoghi, Op.3. Recorded in 1996 by Cappella Artemisia and reissued several times, most recently on Tactus TC600301 [79:22], it’s well worth pursuing. There’s a Naļve recording of her Vespers of the Virgin Mary, which I haven’t heard, but I did make a selection of her 1642 and 1650 collections my Discovery of the Month in May 2009 (Dialogues with Heaven, Linn CKD113, mp3 or lossless download). The Musica Omnia recording of the complete 1650 collection by Magnificat is still available from some dealers; Johan van Veen was not over-impressed – review – but Kirk McElhearn liked the same ensemble's Vespers of the Blessed Virgin, a selection from the same 1650 collection – review.

At least those Musica Omnia releases include the texts; their omission by Tactus is to be deplored. Though they are supposedly available from, the website was down for maintenance when I checked. Nor do Tactus give us the composers’ dates, though they do list those of composition. The Cozzolani Christmas Vespers album, which includes the Latin texts, shows that Tactus can get it right (almost – no translation).

This collection of Christmas music which can be played at any time of the year has sent me in search of the Tactus label’s other recordings, mostly with Cappella Artemisia, of music by Italian female composers, some of which I have listed. That’s plenty to explore in future; meanwhile enjoy the current album, then let it lead you to some of those other collections. I’ve enjoyed dipping into these from Naxos Music Library.

Brian Wilson

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