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Amadio FREDDI (c1580-1643) Vespers (1616)
The Gonzaga Band/Jamie Savan
rec. 2019, St Andrew's Church, Toddington, UK
Texts and translations included RESONUS CLASSICS RES10245 [58:10]
It is remarkable how many collections of sacred music were published in Italy during the first decades of the 17th century. This can partly be explained by the frequency of religious activities, both regular services and special events, in churches as well as in the palaces and chapels of the nobility. However, it is also a token of the recent stylistic developments: music from the 16th century was still performed, but there was also a huge demand for music written in the new style, the seconda pratica. Often those two styles were mixed, for instance in the Vespers of 1610 by Claudio Monteverdi.
As is so often the case, when large amounts of music are published, the largest part of the repertoire remains unknown. That is also due to the fact that in today's performance practice, Monteverdi overshadows almost all his contemporaries. His sacred music, such as the Vespers, but also the pieces included in the Selva morale e spirituale of 1640/41, are frequently performed and recorded, and in comparison most other composers are largely ignored. That even goes for Alessandro Grandi, one of the most gifted composers of his time, and for a number of years his colleague at St Mark's in Venice.
The present disc offers the opportunity to become acquainted with Amadio Freddi, a composer most music lovers may never have heard of, although some of his music seems to have been recorded before. Those pieces which are available in other recordings, are part of anthologies. This disc is the first which is entirely devoted to him, although other composers are included whose music serves to create a kind of Vesper liturgy.
Let's first turn to the composer. He was born in Padua, but there is some confusion about the year of his birth. Jamie Savan has come to the conclusion that it must have been around 1580. If that is correct we have to consider him a precocious talent, as he was already singing as a soprano at San Antonio basilica in Padua in 1592. "He was the only soprano to be paid for his services, suggesting his status was rather diﬀerent to that of the boys who normally sang unpaid as part of their ecclesiastical training", Savan states. In 1598 Freddi is listed as a contralto, which indicates that his voice had broken. It was quite normal at the time that the boy's voice broke between age 16 and 18.
At that time, Costanzo Porta was maestro di cappella from 1595 until his death in 1601, and Freddi mentions him as his teacher in the foreword to his first book of madrigals of 1602. Porta was a representative of the stile antico. Savan mentions the singer and theorbo player Bartolomeo Barbarino, who worked at San Antonio from 1606 to 1608, as the one, who probably taught Freddi the principles of the new style. In 1608 he took holy orders, probably to have a chance of being elected as maestro di cappella, but that did not happen. It may have encouraged him to look for employment elsewhere. In 1615 he was appointed maestro di cappella at Treviso Cathedral. He found secondary employment as musician and celebrating priest at the church of S. Teonisto, connected to a Benedictine convent. This church regularly attracted external musicians for performances at important feast days, such as singers, a cornettist, a violinist and an organist. Savan suggests that the Vespers performed here could have been written for this church.
However, there is a bit of a problem with regard to the feast for which these Vespers may have been intended. In this regard they are comparable with Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers, which also cannot be connected to a specific Marian feast. "[The] particular psalm tones chosen for these compositions do not accord with the prescribed combination for any known Marian feast in the church year." And this raises the question whether this collection was intended as a fixed liturgical sequence or rather as one from which a maestro di cappella could select what was needed for a particular service. This is probably the reason that Savan did not opt for a liturgical reconstruction. There is no plainchant, but there are elements which give at least the suggestion of a liturgical event. In this respect this recording seems to be a bit torn between two ideas. Every psalm is followed by a vocal or instrumental piece, which - for instance in Monteverdi's Vespers - is used as an alternative to the repeat of the antiphon preceding the psalm. However, if there is no antiphon, there is no reason to include a piece to replace the repeat. On the other hand, most psalms are preceded by an organ intonation from the pen of Andrea or Giovanni Gabrieli. Are these meant to replace the plainchant antiphons?
Whatever is the case, they are interesting additions to Freddi's music and are useful to put his music into its historical context. They also fit into the programme in that Freddi includes obbligato instrumental parts which play sinfonias, in alternation with the voices, but can play colla voce as well. Probably in line with what we know about the performance practice in S. Teonisto, the instrumental parts are played on cornetto and violin. This is also the line-up in most instrumental pieces as well as in Grandi's sacred concerto Tota pulchra es, which is taken from a collection of pieces for one and two voices con sinfonia.
The way the programme has been put together deserves praise, as it is a nice mixture of music by an unknown master and by some of the leading composers of the time, such as Biagio Marini and Dario Castello. The opening versicle and response, of which no setting is included in Freddi's collection, is performed in a version by Porta, and that is a nice tribute to the composer's teacher. Freddi's setting of the hymn Ave maris stella, taken from another collection, has been preserved incomplete, and has been reconstructed for this recording.
Savan has done a lot of research about the composer and his music, and it has been well worth the effort. This is very good music, which deserves to be performed. In the booklet Savan refers to other collections of music, such as madrigals, and this disc makes curious about that part of his oeuvre. It would be nice, if that would be performed in due course as well. Freddi is just one of many composers who have remained in the shadow of Monteverdi. Overall I have enjoyed the performances. The instrumental contributions are excellent. The singing is pretty good, but in the lower voices I would have liked a little less vibrato now and then. The soprano and the two altos make the best impression here. The singers show a good command of the art of recitar cantando, but there could have been stronger dynamic contrasts.
All said and done, lovers of this kind of repertoire should not miss the chance to add this substantial production to their collection.