Abos: A Maltese Christmas

[Mailys de Villoutreys, Zoë Brown, Myriam Arbouz, George Pooley, Mauro Borgioni SSATB], Kölner Akademie, Michael Alexander Willens
67:53
cpo 777 978-2
Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel, Magnificat, Messa a due cori

A most enjoyable issue, if a slightly misleading title – Girolamo Abos (1715-1760) was indeed Maltese born, but he was educated, and spent most of his life, in Naples, as Maestro to several of the great religious institutions there. The three pieces assembled here (a grand double-choir Missa Brevis, a four-voice Magnificat  and a five-voice Benedictus) are all in the mature Neapolitan mid 18th-century style, with graceful galant solos and richly sonorous choruses (performed one-voice-to-a-part), fully orchestrally accompanied.

The music is consistently splendid, with every textual image felicitously caught – I especially liked the cavernous and richly harmonic ‘humilitatem’ in the Magnificat  (track 10) and the rushing scales as the Superbos are Dispersed and the Potentes are Deposited (track 12). There is some particularly grand counterpoint in the Mass; try the last movement (track 22), with its two fugal subjects combining with the well-known ‘romanesca’ bass theme, used here as a melodic countersubject in both diminution and augmentation…

Soloists Maillys de Villoutreys and Zoe Brown (sop), Myriam Arbouz (alt), George Pooley (ten) and Mauro Borgioni (bass) are uniformly superb, but also blend effortlessly and beautifully in Abos’ complex concertato writing. They are seamlessly joined, in the Mass, by Charmian Bedford and Christiane Rittner (sop), Dominique Bilitza (alt), Vladimir Tarasov (ten) and Jonathan Brown (bass).

Kölner Akademie provide luscious orchestral support and Michael Alexander Willens is a secure and sensitive conductor. The excellent sleevenotes are by the Malta-based musicologist Frederick Aquilina.
Highly recommended!

Alastair Harper