Cortellini: Le Messe – edizione integrale

198:26 (3 CDs in a wallet)
Tactus TC 560380
12 masses involving 11 choirs and directors

This comprehensive set of CDs recording of all the Masses by the Bolognese composer Camillo Cortellini (1561-1630) is a real community effort and, with most of the enormous cast list of choirs coming from Bologna and district, a testimony to the active choral scene in that city. Although with music of the late 16th and early 17th century it is just conceivable that all the musicians could be collaborating on some huge polychoral scores, this is not the case, and in fact each ensemble takes on individual masses. So far, so good, but sadly the quality of the singing is very variable ranging from the pretty woeful to the not bad. The fact that they each take their turn has the advantage that you are not stuck with any one choir for too long, but the disadvantage is that some of the performances are really not very easy to listen to and don’t really do their composer justice. And this is another snag. In the performances presented here with voices and organ, it is not clear that Cortellini lives up to the claims made for his music in the programme notes. It is thoroughly competent and melodious, but I didn’t feel he was the lost genius that clearly the organizers of this ambitious project felt he was. Cortellini was a predecessor of Monteverdi in the employ of the Gonzagas, so I am prepared to believe that there is more to his music than is apparent here. I admire the spirit behind this ambitious project, but we miss the assurance of a single group, who would have become thoroughly conversant with Cortellini’s idiom over the course of recording all this music, and would have perhaps been more persuasive advocates of his virtues as a composer. Frankly most of the singing here just isn’t up to scratch.

3444D. James Ross