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Stefano BERNARDI (1577-1637)
Lux Ăterna - Ein Salzburger Requiem
Missa pro defunctis sex vocum (1629) [41:55]
Sinfonia terza concertata (1615-16) [3:04]
Ad te, Domine, levavi animam meam (1630) [2:47]
Sinfonia quarta concertata (1615-16) [3:32]
Letanie Ó 4 concertata (1626) [8:51]
Sinfonia seconda concertata (1615-16) [2:33]
De profundis clamavi a te, Domine (1624) [5:27]
Voces Suaves
Concerto Scirocco.
rec. 2019, Stadtkirche St.Martin, Rheinfelden, Switzerland..
Sung texts in Latin, with English, French and German translations.
ARCANA A470 [68:15]

Most visitors to Salzburg will have noticed how Italianate much of the architecture in the old city is. This is particularly true of the Cathedral. Two of Salzburg’s most important prince-archbishops commissioned Italian architects to draw up plans for the city. The first was Wolf-Dietrich von Raitenau, who reigned from 1587 to 1612, and was a nephew of Pope Pius IV (whose family were regarded as a branch of the Medicis). Wolf-Dietrich commissioned the Italian architect – and architectural theorist – Vincenzo Scamozzi (1552-1616) to design public squares for the city and a new cathedral. However, building of Scamozzi’s cathedral had not begun at the time of his death, four years after that of Wolf-Dietrich. The new prince-archbishop was Markus Sitticus von Hohenems. He abandoned Scamozzi’s plans for the cathedral (though the fašade may have been based on his design) and commissioned a new Italian architect, Santino Solari (1576-1646). As well as the cathedral, Solari also designed the very Italianate Lustschloss at the palace of Hellbrun on the outskirts of Salzburg. Building work on the cathedral began in 1614, when the cornerstone was laid. Many Italian artists and craftsmen worked on the cathedral and its decoration; these included the painters Donato/Arsenio Mascagni and Ignazio Solari.

The Prince-Archbishops’ love of Italian architecture was matched by their fondness for Italian music. Several of those who held the position of Kapellmeister at the cathedral were Italian, such as Tiburtio Massaino from Cremona and Francesco Turco; one who wasn’t, Peter Gutfreund, thought it wise to adopt an Italianised version of his name and became Pietro Bonamico. As building work on the new cathedral made good progress, Marcus Sitticus was also busy introducing Italian opera to Salzburg, including a production of Orfeo in 1614, which was repeated in 1617 and 1619. Marcus Sitticus died, however, in 1619; he was succeeded by another lover of Italian art and culture, Paris, Count of Lodron, who was to reign from 1619 to 1653. By 1625, work on the cathedral was nearing completion when, Gutfeund/Bonamico died. This gave Paris Lodron the opportunity to make a new appointment. Given that he was such an Italophile, he naturally wanted to appoint an Italian as Kapellmeister.

His choice was Stefano Bernardi (then in his mid-forties). Bernardi had, to put things anachronistically, an impressive CV. Born in Verona, as a boy he was a chorister in the cathedral there. From 1602 he was paid as a musician, at both the cathedral and Verona’s Accademia Filarmonica. In 1607 he moved to Rome, becoming maestro di capella at S. Maria dei Monti. He returned to Verona in 1611 and was appointed maestro di capella at the cathedral. In 1616 he was also made director of music at the Accademia Filarmonica. He had several significant publications to his name. A collection of motets and a set of madrigals for three voices were published in Rome in 1610 and 1611 respectively. Thereafter most of his music was published in Venice. It included Il primo libro de madrigali (for five voices) of 1611 and Il secondo libro de madrigali (also for five voices) in 1616, plus two mass settings in 1615 and 1616. His Concerti academici con varie sorti di sinfonia appeared in 1616. In 1622 he was appointed, by the Archbishop Carl von Ísterreich, kapellmeister at Neisse in Silesia (now Nysa in Poland). When the vacancy at Salzburg arose, he was well qualified in terms both of experience and output (he also wrote a treatise on counterpoint, Porta musicale,1615) and his familiarity with the new musical style of Venice and northern Italy would, one imagines, have been attractive to Paris Lodron. The exact date of his appointment in Salzburg doesn’t seem to be known, but he was certainly in office there by 1627 and possibly earlier. His first important task was to prepare the music for the inauguration of the new cathedral in 1628. Among the works he wrote for the occasion was a Te Deum, a work (now lost) which made use of 12 choirs. In the booklet essay for this CD, Eva Neumayr, musicologist and Head of the Music Collection at the Archdiocese of Salzburg, quotes an unnamed contemporary’s account of the occasion: “They then held the Te Deum Laudamus, in the cathedral, in which there were on all choirs all sorts of musical instruments, and organ-playing and singing so graceful and joyful, that I think it would not be more beautiful and joyful in heaven”. There is much that is beautiful and, in a special sense ‘joyful’ – the joy of religious consolation and the assured belief in salvation – in the main work recorded here, Bernardi’s Missa pro defunctis sex vocum, a work written after his Salzburg appointment. To quote Neumayr: “The soprano voice in Bernardi’s time was sung by boy choristers; the alto was sung by castrati or falsettists. For a large-scale performance in the Metrapolitankirche, the choir would surely have been supported by additional singers and various instruments, playing colla parte. In particular three trombones, which accompanied the choir, were in use for a long period of time in the Salzburg cathedral.” On this recording of Bernardi’s Missa pro defunctis there are ten voices (the sopranos being women), plus three sackbuts, violin, viola da brazzo, cornetto, dulcian, violone, theorbo and organ. (In small print, in the list of those making up Concerto Scirocco, Giulia Genini is listed thus “tenor dulcian, bass dulcian and director”. She is, indeed, artistic director of Concerto Scirocco, but since no conductor of this recording is mentioned, I wonder if the reference to “director” here means, also, that she was in charge of this performance?). The resources available, in terms of singers and instruments are used with such intelligent variety and considerable sensitivity, so whoever directed this performance deserves considerable credit.

Bernardi’s Missa pro defunctis is an impressive piece, large in scale and entirely without dull ‘spots’, invention being consistent throughout. The Introitus develops (it feels so organic, I am tempted to say it ‘grows’) slowly, but the perfection with which voices and instruments combine, and the perfectly judged tempo carry an assurance that one is in very safe hands, as regards both composition and performers. That sense of assurance turns out to be wholly justified in all that follows. Yet, for all the consistent level of writing and performance, there are some passages which stand out, which speak directly to the hearer (or, indeed, give expression to the hearer’s own thoughts). One such comes at ‘Oro supplex et acclinis’ in the Sequentia, when all voices and instruments, save two sopranos, one alto and the organ, drop away. The organ, incidentally, is a wooden instrument, with open wooden pipes, made in 2017 by Walter Chinaglia of Cermenate in the province of Como in Italy. It is played, here, by Michele Vannelli – and very beautiful it sounds. In contrast with the fuller sound of many of other passages, the setting of three lines phrased in the first person singular – “oro supplex et acclinis” (I prostrate myself, supplicating), which petition God “gere curam mei finis” (take good care of my last moment) – is both intimate and ethereal. This is a breathtaking moment! Elsewhere, the Kyrie eleison has an intensely prayerful quality, dominated by the choir with the instruments of Concerto Scirocco mostly quiet. In the Sanctus, instruments and voices are perfectly balanced, creating a particularly precise kind of beauty as individual voices are ‘shadowed’, colle parte. The Agnus Dei is deeply touching in its gentle penitential manner, beautifully played and sung. The same can be said of the Communio. With the Libera me, Domine we are brought to a conclusion which is eloquent both in petitionary prayer – “Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna” (Deliver me, O Lord, from death eternal) – and in the expression of Divine might, in the unexpectedly hushed setting of “Dies illa, dies irae,/calamaitatis et miseriae,/dies magna et amara valde/dum veneris/judicare saeculum per ignem.” (O that day, that day of wrath/of sore distress and of all wretchedness/that great day and exceeding bitter./When thou shalt come/to judge the world by fire). In the skilled use of alternatim performance, alternating, that is, Gregorian chant and polyphonic writing, this mass, at least in this fine performance, sustains fascinated interest throughout the almost sixteen minutes of the Sequentia (the passages of chant are sung (very well) by the tenors of Voces Suaves). They and the other singers of Voces Suaves are excellent throughout, as are the instrumentalists of Concerto Scirocco. More than once I was particularly impressed by passages in which the cornetto of Pietro Modesti climbed above the sound of the other instrumentalists and voices. Though never at all bombastic, Bernardi’s Mass for the Dead has grandeur and dignity, alongside its moments of intimacy and spirituality. If the Te Deum Bernardi wrote for the inauguration of the rebuilt Salzburg cathedral was as impressive as this Missa pro defunctis, his new employers must surely have been delighted. Its polychoral effects must have been stunning in the acoustic of the cathedral.

Music by Bernardi continued to be published in Venice after he was working in Salzburg – Salmi concertati (1637) and Messe a otto voci (1638) – which suggests that though he hadn’t worked in Italy for some years his reputation there was still relatively high. The splendid Missa pro defunctis recorded here appears not to have been published. Eva Neumayr, in her booklet essay, writes “Stefano Bernardi’s church music has been transmitted to us in three choirbooks in Salzburg, compiled in 1629, 1630 and 1631”. Though the mass is clearly the major work on this CD, there is also plenty of pleasure to be had from the other works on the disc. For me, the two most impressive of these works were the motet Ad te, Domine, levavi animam meam and the Letanie Ó 4 concertata, both of which seem to have been written after Bernardi became Kapellmeister in Salzburg. The first of these might just about be mistaken, in a blindfold test, for a work by Monteverdi and the Letanie is also unmistakably influenced by the example of Monteverdi. While Bernardi didn’t quite have the gifts of Monteverdi (very few did, after all), he had certainly understood and assimilated the musical language of that great master. The two orchestral sinfonias, written prior to Bernardi’s time in Salzburg, are also very attractive. Overall, it is hard to disagree (not that I want to!) with Eva Neumayer’s conclusion that “Stefano Bernardi was without a doubt one of the greatest composers among an array of musicians who worked at the new Salzburg cathedral, and for whom one would wish more recognition”. Bernardi left Salzburg in 1634 and died back in Verona three years later.

I have heard only one other recording of Bernardi’s music, the Motetti in Cantilena of 1613, which Johan van Veen reviewed unfavourably for MusicWeb. I largely shared his view when I caught up with that disc. The performances there left a good deal to be desired. This new disc definitely makes a much stronger case for Bernardi’s music. The performances are excellent and the recorded sound top class. To judge by this disc, Bernardi was an accomplished composer in the ‘new’ style of the early baroque. It is an added attraction of this disc from Arcana that its presentation is excellent. As I have already implied, Eva Neumayer’s booklet essay is both scholarly and helpful; all sung texts are there, with German, French, Italian and English translations; there are photographs of a number of the performers in action; details are given of the instruments played – and we are also treated to a photograph of the wooden organ, by Walter Chinaglia, used in the recording as well as a reproduction and discussion, of a painting, The Burial of Christ by Ignazio Solari, son of the cathedral’s architect, Santino Solari, which remains in the cathedral.

Glyn Pursglove

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