Venice 1629

The Gonzaga Band
Resonus RES 10218
Music by Carrone, Castello, Donati, Grandi, Biagio Marini, Monteverdi, Pesenti, Rè, Schütz & Tarditi

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his is a splendid CD exploring the annus mirabilis*nbsp; of 1629 in Venice, when Schütz made a second visit when his Symphoniae Sacrae I  were published there. But his was not the only publication in Venice that year, and this programme of music published there in 1629 was prepared by Jamie Savan and is performed by the talented musicians of the Gonzaga Band under his direction.

There are three reasons why it is so good: chiefly because of the exquisite singing of Faye Newton, the soprano, whose resonant yet crystal clear voice is just right for projecting the words as well as balancing the instruments – both cornetto and violin – perfectly; partly because the pieces chosen are all for treble instruments (cornetti and violins) and soprano with organ or harpsichord, and that brings an immediate clarity to the textures; and partly because the performances have an energy and vitality that frequently escapes the serious and worthy attempts at perfection which so often involve many takes and much editorial snipping and piecing. This CD, recorded in the generous acoustics of the chapel in Oscott, feels spontaneous, musical and is a pleasure to listen to from beginning to end.

There is one piece by Monteverdi, the towering genius of the period, but most are by his contemporaries: Schütz, Marini, Grandi, Pesenti and Castello, and then a number of less familiar names – Tarditi, Carrone, Donati and Rè. Motets for a single voice are mingled with canzonas and sonatas for several instruments, and some motets have rich instrumental textures weaving around the vocal line. These are a particular delight.

Schütz’s later settings reflect the changed world he found since his earlier visit. The large-scale polychoral splendours of Giovanni Gabrieli that he had imitated then in his Psalmen Davids  were no longer fashionable. It was the smaller scaled chamber works like the motets of Alessandro Grandi, scored for a single voice and a couple of treble instruments, that were the model he took back to the court at a Dresden in the middle of the Thirty Years’ War. More typically Italian are the sonatas by the virtuoso wind player Dario Castello – his Sonata decima settima, in ecco  (the final track) is an exquisite tour de force.

The notes by Jamie Savan set the context of 1629 and are full of historical interest, and the Resonus website has an even fuller version with footnotes and references. The instruments and their makers are listed, and there is a substantial section on how the digital Hauptwerk organ, using pipework sampled from the organ in St Mario d’Alieto in Izola on the Adriatic coast of Slovenia, was set up. The original sources of the music are given as well as the editors of the pieces chosen. The Latin texts and their English translations are in the centre of the liner notes: this detailed information is a model of good practice.

But this CD would be a treat even if the whole apparatus that surrounds the recording has been less satisfactory: it is top of the range in every respect.

David Stancliffe

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