Wednesday 19 September 2012

Venetian Vespers

After the immense success of I Fagiolini’s recording of the Striggio 40 part mass last year it would be asking a lot to expect a repeat of that success with their latest offering.

However, their new release from Decca, entitled 1612 Italian Vespers, is another wonderful recording of exciting and little known repertoire that is likely to prove just as popular.

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Directed by Robert Hollingworth, 1612 Italian Vespers features no less than seven works by the lesser known Parmesan composer Lodovico Grossi da Viadana (c.1560-1627), as well as works by Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli (1532/3-1585) and (1554/7-1612) respectively, Bartolomeo Barbarino (c.1568-c.1617), Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina 1525/6-1594), Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) and Francesco Soriano (1548/9-1621).

This new recording also marks the 400th anniversary of the death of Giovanni Gabrieli and the 400th anniversary of the publication of a collection of Vespers music by Viadana.

All of the various settings are drawn together to create what the Second Vespers of the feast of Our Lady and the Most Holy Rosary might have sounded like at a North Italian cathedral or church in the early 17th century on the anniversary of the victory against the Turks at Lepanto.

Viadana proves to be a striking composer with certain influences from Monteverdi with whom he worked for a while in Mantua. His Psalm settings, of which there are five on this disc, are particularly attractive. In particular his setting of Psalm 109  ‘Dixit Dominus’ has some wonderful sonorities, Psalm 112 ‘Laudate, pueri’ has superb countertenor contribution and Psalm 147 ‘Lauda, Ierusalem’ is full of interest, with singing of breadth and colour reinforced by the instrumentalists.

All of the settings by Viadana and, indeed the opening Versicle and Response ‘Deus, in adiutorium meum’ are of great quality and really stand out.

Barbarino’s short motet ‘Exaudi, Deus’ has some wonderful playing by Gawain Glenton (cornet) and David Roblou (organ). It is good to hear David Roblou again, whom I first heard quite a while ago in an interesting radio broadcast featuring the pedal-board harpsichord.

Andrea Gabrieli is represented by his ‘Benedictus Dominus Deus Sabaoth’ and an attractive little Toccata del 9. Tono.

The Hymn ‘Ave, Maris Stella’ comprises of music from Monteverdi and Soriano in a hybrid form that apparently was not an unusual practice at the time. Monteverdi’s contribution is, as you would expect, glorious, but what really struck me was the really unusual music of Soriano with long lines and expressive themes and wonderful instrumental accompaniment. 

Monteverdi’s Motet ‘Ab aeterno ordinate sum’, has some first rate, flexible, singing from the bass Jonathan Sells accompanied by David Roblou (organ) and David Miller (theorbo).

Hugh Keyte, who provided the editions for Striggio’s 40 part motet ‘Ecce beatam lucem’  and Tallis’s 40 part motet ‘Spem in alium’ on I Fagiolini’s Striggio recording, has reconstructed Giovanni Gabrieli’s Magnificat ‘Con il sicut locutus, In ecco’ and Extraliturgical Motet ‘In ecclesiis.’

It is said that the Magnificat, attributed to Gabrieli, was played at the court chapel of Archduke Ferdinand at Graz. Originally thought to be three-choir works, they were later expanded to become seven-choir works and may have later been made for performance at two of the lavish afternoon concerts at one of the Venetian charitable confraternities, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. These concerts must have been extremely lavish affairs given the grand nature of this work.

Towards the end of the Magnificat, Keyte has used a rest marked in the music to include a brass fanfare where the probable use of a fanfare would have been and added cannon fire that may well have been part of the anniversary celebrations of the victory over the Turks forty-one years previously. The resulting bells, trumpets and cannon fire all making an impressive sound. The manuscripts of the Magnificat only survive incomplete and Hugh Keyte has done a wonderful job bringing this terrific work to completion.

Equally, in Giovanni Gabrieli’s Extraliturgical Motet ‘In ecclesiis’, Hugh Keyte has done us a great service in reconstructing the full version of the work, only previously known in a reduced form. This has restored the Motet to its glorious, four-choir, full grandeur as one of Gabrieli’s great late works.

Most of the works are preceded by plainchant and there are bells at the appropriate moments in the Vespers. But this liturgical setting works far better than many of the reconstructed liturgical settings that have appeared in other recordings with a sequence of music that flows naturally with choral pieces interspersed with occasional instrumental works.

The performances here are superb with the instrumentalists finely balanced with the choir, never overshadowing them. The detailed and informative notes by Hugh Keyte are excellent.

This is another winner from Robert Hollingworth and I Fagiolini.

See also:

Another Striggio comes along
Striggio’s missing manuscript

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