Benevoli: Missa “In angustia pestilentiæ”, 1656

Floral design

Cappella Musicale Santa Maria in Campitelli, Vincenzo Di Betta
Tactus TC 600201

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]omposed during a plague which hit Rome in 1656, and probably performed behind closed doors in St. Peter’s Basilica in order to prevent contagion, Benevoli’s Missa In angustia pestilentiæ  is typical of the large-scale Roman baroque. It is performed here by the eighteen singers of the Cappella Musicale of S. Maria in Campitelli, one of Rome’s larger baroque churches. It currently houses a restored small organ ‘ad ala’ of 1635, made in Viterbo by Pellegrino Pollicolli in the Roman tradition, used to good advantage here to accompany the choir, as well as in organ pieces by Frescobaldi, Froberger and Tarquinia Merula, played by Franco Vito Gaiezza. Merula’s Intonazione cromatica  with echoes is particularly effective. The disc presents a plausible reconstruction of a festal Mass with plainchant propers and other items, well sung by the church’s schola, as well as the organ interludes in appropriate places. The polyphonic singing is enthusiastic – often overly so, without much subtlety and with a couple of voices over-dominant in the full texture. They are accompanied by two trombones and theorbo, as well as the organ, and the resonant acoustic tends to emphasise the lack of contrast. The result is somewhat to trivialise Benevoli’s carefully considered antiphonal repetitions, without sufficient separation in the recording to mimic the surround-sound effects and contrasts intended by the composer. The reduced-voice sections like the Christe and the middle section of the Credo fare better; the latter’s seemingly endless ‘non erit finis’ is particularly effective. This is an enterprising project and it is good to see a contemporary Roman church choir tackling this music.

Noel O’Regan

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