Alessandro Grandi (1590-1630)
Laetatus sum - Vesper Psalms
Accademia d'Arcadia, UtFaSol Ensemble/Alessandra Rossi Lürig
rec. 2019, Chiesa San Francesco della Vigna, Venice, Italy
Texts and translations included
Reviewed as a stereo 16/44 download with pdf booklet from Outhere
ARCANA A525 
Alessandro Grandi has suffered - and is probably still suffering - from the popularity of Claudio Monteverdi among performers and audiences. Only a small part of his sizeable oeuvre is available on disc, and his name does not often appear on the programmes of concerts. He has become mainly famous for his sacred concertos. In these pieces for solo voice(s) and basso continuo, sometimes with additional instruments, he shows his mastery of the monodic style and his skills in connecting text and music in a meaningful way. A few years ago, Alessandra Rossi Lürig directed the Accademia d'Arcadia and the UtFaSol Ensemble in an impressive recording of a selection of sacred concertos (review). For the recording to be reviewed here she turned to larger-scale works, which reprents a genre for which Grandi is much lesser-known. This recording documents that he can easily compete with any of his contemporaries in this department as well.
A substantial part of the sacred concertos dates from Grandi's time in Venice. The music on the present disc is taken from three collections which were published in the last two years of his life. In 1627 he was appointed maestro di cappella at Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo. Unfortunately, he held this post only three years, as in 1630 he and his family fell victim to the plague.
The music included in these last collections attest to the possibilities and the limitations of the musical establishment at this cathedral. The music historian Rodolfo Baroncini, in his liner-notes, states that "[although] Bergamo had a respectable musical tradition, it was not Venice, and many aspects of these compositions follow the requirements, taste and resources of a local tradition that still bears traces of polychoral practice both in structure and texture." He mentions the antiphonal dialogue, which was something of the past, and the scoring for the unusual combination of violin and sackbut (rather than two violins) in one piece. That said, in his polychoral psalm settings Grandi mixes the cori spezzati technique of old with the modern fashion of solo writing in the monodic style. And especially in the solo episodes we meet the master of text expression whom we know from the sacred concertos. Grandi does not miss the opportunities to illustrate the dramatic verses in Dixit Dominus through the use of the stile concitato. In Laetatus sum Grandi cleverly juxtaposes polyphony and homophony to emphasize elements in the text, right at the start with the emphasis of the opening statement: "I was glad". The three most personal verses - "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem", "Let peace be within your walls" and "For the sake of my brethren, and of my neighbours, I spoke peace of thee" - are each set for one solo voice.
The programme also includes some psalm settings for solo voices, which are very much alike the sacred concertos of earlier collections. A notable example is Beatus vir, scored for three voices (TTB) and basso continuo. Grandi uses chromaticism on words as "misericors" and "miseratur". When the text says that "the righteous will never be moved", the word "commovebitur" is set to repeated notes, so that the voice does not move upwards or downwards. The two closing verses - before the doxology - are also models of text expression. "His horn is exalted in glory" is exalted indeed, and includes coloratura on "gloria". The last phrase says "the desire of the wicked will perish" and this is eloquently illustrated by the word "peribit" being sung successively by each of the three singers.
These features are not missed by the performers. I was impressed by their recording of sacred concertos, and here they are just as convincing in the larger-scale works. The singing of its members in the small-scale psalm settings - Beatus vir is a brilliant example - and in the solo episodes in the larger-scale works is excellent. They do full justice to Grandi's treatment of the text. The ensemble is also impeccable, and as a result we get some quite impressive performances of Grandi's polychoral works. The playing of the sackbuts substantially contributes to this disc's making a lasting impression.
The booklet includes informative liner-notes. It is just a shame that they mostly refer to the wrong tracks. Apparently the order of the pieces is a little different than originally planned.
Ever since I heard Grandi's music for the first time I have been fascinated about it, and I am very happy that this is the second time that Ms Lürig and her colleagues demonstrate that Grandi was a true master of his art. May more recordings of his oeuvre follow.
Johan van Veen
Magnificat a 10
Beatus vir a 3
Dixit in ritornello
Laudate pueri a 3
Confitebor a 3
Laudate pueri IV. toni