Early English Church Music Volume 61 Transcribed and edited by Jonathan Wainwright xxxviii+176pp. £75 ISBN: 9780852499610 ISMN: 9790220225987
Click HERE to buy this from the publisher’s website. [PLEASE NOTE: This link is NOT sponsored]
This heavy and handsomely bound book contains all of Lawes’ known sacred music: five anthems (three of which are fragmentary), five “symphony anthems” (don’t get excited – the symphonies are reduced to organ accompaniment), 29 devotional anthems for 2 sopranos, bass and continuo, seven “sacred songs” for soprano and continuo, 24 metrical psalms for soprano and bass (here with the text of the opening verse printed below the upper voice and the remaining verses as poetic stanzas below), three Latin motets (Laudate Dominum for 2 sopranos, bass and continuo, Predicate in gentibus for bass and continuo, and Quis sicut Dominus Deus noster for soprano, bass and continuo), three rounds for three voices and the texts of eleven pieces that are known to have been lost. An appendix has Matthew Camidge’s 1789 re-working of the psalm tunes.
As well as this hugely generous amount of music, you get a LOT of musicology; there’s a lengthy introduction to Henry Lawes and his music, then an exhaustive list not only of the sources but also articles that have already explored them in depth, and a comprehensive bibliography. Then, each subsection of the book (essential the seven categories I described above) has its own introduction along with detailed critical notes. The music is beautifully laid out. The original orthography of the texts is retained. I am not a great fan of “dashed bar marks” in vocal music as I find it quite difficult at a glance to see where they fall. Nor do ficta accidentals above repeated notes of the same pitch strike me as particularly useful. That said, these are very, very minor criticisms. Henry Lawes’ music deserves to be much more widely known and this beautiful book makes it readily accessible.
Gli Angeli Genève, Concerto Palatino, Wrocław Baroque Orchestra, Stephan MacLeod
Claves Records 50-1805
Music by Bollius, Buchner, Bütner, Jarbęski, Legrenzi, Lilius, Biagio Marini, Mayer, Merula, Pacelli, Scacchi, Valentini, Zeutschner & Zieleński
[dropcap]D[/dropcap]on’t worry if some of the composers’ names look unfamiliar – I can guarantee that, if you like 17th-century music, you will totally love this disc. Covering everything from a duet for tenors by Merula to a piece by Pacelli for five choirs and voices and instruments, Stephan MacLeod guides his assembled forces through more than an hour of beautiful music, cleverly interspersing the choral works with slighter chamber pieces. Of many pieces I heard for the first time, my particular favourite was Tobias Zeutschner’s “Der Herr gebe euch vom Tau des Himmels” which is impressive from the opening sonata until the end almost nine minutes later. The performances are every bit as impressive as the music itself, and they are beautifully captured in the recording. My only slight criticism of the whole enterprise is the lack of texts and translations of the vocal pieces. Admittedly the booklet is already quite thick (including Polish amongst the languages!), but a better balance between publicity and useful information could surely have been found, or the texts made available online. That said, with singing and playing of this calibre, they could sing nursery rhyme texts and I’d be impressed! Magnificent recording.
Musica Britannica CIII
Transcribed and edited by Peter Holman and John Cunningham
xlviii (incl. six plates) + 134pp
ISMN 979 0 2202 2517 8; ISBN 978 0 85249 953 5;
ISSN 0580-2954; Stainer & Bell Ltd £99.00
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s a violinist, there are few things I enjoy more than playing music for three treble parts, so the contents of this volume (much of which I know from recordings by one of the editors and his ground-breaking Parley of Instruments) are a delight.
There are 11 three-movement fantasia-suites by John Jenkins, a ten-movement suite by Thomas Baltzar, grounds by Bartholomew Isaack and Nicola Matteis, and five sonatas by Gottfried Finger (as well as the sole surviving part from a sixth).
After a broad introduction to the repertoire (including a footnote referring readers to a free download site rather than the English publisher, King’s Music/The Early Music Company, for early Italian sonatas for three violins, while modern German editions are credited in footnote 11), each of the composers and his output are profiled in greater detail.
The music itself is neatly laid out with repeats and ends of movements at line or page breaks. Editorial additions are printed in smaller type and if something is not clear, there are extensive notes on sources and discrepancies in the 18-page critical notes that complete this very handsome volume.
At under £100, this beautiful book is a bargain. Hopefully its true worth will be shown in renewed interest in the repertoire it contains. Although it states that performing material is published simultaneously, I was unable to find it on www.stainer.co.uk – perhaps they are “in preparation”. Let us hope so!
A garden of pleasure
Plamena Nikitassova violin, Julian Behr theorbo, Matthias Müller violone, Jörg-Andreas Bötticher harpsichord & organ
Claves Records 50-1727
[dropcap]B[/dropcap]ulgarian violinist Plamena Nikitassova’s name has appeared on concert programmes and CD listings that I’ve seen but this is the first time I have heard her play solo. Hopefully it will not be the last! In a recital ranging from music by Biber, Muffat and Walther to unknowns like Lizkau and Döbel, she dispenses virtuosity with ease (all the more astonishing, given the fact that she plays off the shoulder), making the original Stainer she plays sing sweetly over its entire range – even when it’s pretending to be two violins! She is well supported by her colleagues (Bötticher also gives a fine performance of a toccata by Kerll, keeping in with the slightly crazy character of the stylus phantasticus). The use of a chromatic harpsichord with extra keys means that the enharmonic shifts in the Muffat violin sonata are not quite that… over each of the joins there is a “realignment” of the underlying tonality; it is an interesting insight into how 17th-century tuning systems might have worked, but what did musicians without a chromatic harpsichord do? Just play “out of tune”?
Nikitissova’s interpretation of the Passacaglia that brings Biber’s “Mystery Sonatas” to a close is similarly personal; some bars felt so expansive that an extra beat have been added to the music, while some seemed a little short; at one point, she even adds a cadenza. None of this, of course, is beyond what Biber and his contemporaries might have done with the music, and my reaction is perhaps more reflective of the fact that we (dare I single out Anglo-Saxons here?) like our baroque music to be “just so”, and these performances are forcing me out of my comfort zone. And, if they are, is that such a bad thing?
Les Traversées Baroques, Etienne Meyer
Accent ACC 24345
Music by G. B. Bassani, A. & G. Gabrieli, C. Merulo
[dropcap]H[/dropcap]aving had the considerable honour and pleasure of rehearsing the music of Giovanni Gabrieli for days at a stretch, surrounded by the Tintorettos of San Rocco, the common sensibilities of these two contemporary artists become clear. This disc captures these parallels very well. Many of his pieces, and particularly the ones chosen to open this programme, start with low voices laying down the dark ground, the tenebrae, over which, layer by layer, voices of increasingly high tessitura build the mannerist drama of the brighter figures. Much of the energy of paintings at this time is communicated by the brush strokes, sometimes eliding apparently separate objects for the sake of pictorial rhythm, sometimes separating objects to clarify detail, where the story calls for it. There were points in the music where I felt that this aspect could have been emphasised, recognising Gabrieli’s absolutely mannerist use of the tensions between melodic and harmonic rhythm to create drama-in-the-moment. The wind playing is artfully crafted and the voices beautifully integrated. Occasionally the colouration used by the top soprano causes her to step apart from the ensemble, reducing rather than enhancing the dramatic tension. This feature was however turned to advantage in the Bassano divisions on Palestrina’s Veni delicte mi, where the mobility of the voice in the long notes becomes more of a piece with the divided notes, avoiding the awkward transitions between (too) static and (too) frenetic passages, which undermines many performances of this genre. This performance was a revelation, integrated in this way. Vocal and instrumental pieces are interspersed by organ solos. These had weight and momentum, played on a strong toned organ with needling quints, and the rhythm of the passagework carried very well over the chord changes. It was a nice touch to finish the disc with three large scale pieces by Bassano, the best player-composer in Gabrieli’s band at St Mark’s. So often eclipsed in modern times by his organ-playing friend, Bassano deserves a wider airing. His famous treatise has given us a window on their performance practices. Listen to this disc to hear them at their best.
Elena Cecchi Fedi S, Carlo Vistoli cT, Ensemble Sezione Aurea
Brilliant Classics 95685
+Ceresini, D. Ferrabosco, D. Gabrielli, Monteverdi & Uccellini
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t is difficult to avoid unusually mixed feelings about this CD. On the one hand the bargain-priced Brilliant Classics deserves plaudits for introducing some intriguing, previously unrecorded music to the catalogue. On the other, given that most of the disc consists of mid-17th-century vocal music – a genre that crucially demands an understanding of the text – it is highly regrettable that no texts or translations are either supplied in the booklet or available on-line. Any potential value the CD has as a document is thus seriously compromised.
Little is known about Filiberto Laurenzi, who was born in Bertinoro (northern Italy) around 1620. He was a soprano in Rome, where he may have also begun his career as an opera composer. In 1640 he moved to Venice with his pupil Anna Renzi, generally considered the first diva in opera, a soprano renowned above all for an extraordinary acting ability recorded in detail by Giulio Strozzi. It was for Renzi that Laurenzi wrote the role of Aretusa in La finta savia, a pasticcio first given during Carnival 1643 at the Teatro SS Giovanni e Paolo with music principally by Laurenzi, but also including contributions by half a dozen other composers, including Tarquinio Merula and Benedetto Ferrari. Ferrari is today of course considered prime suspect as the composer of the famously lascivious final duet from L’incoronazione di Poppea, which received its first performance in that same Carnival season, the role of Ottavia having been created by Monteverdi for Anna Renzi. Given that Laurenzi is also considered the possible composer of ‘Pur ti miro’, it is included on the present disc in a good but not exceptional performance, marred by the repeat of the main section being taken so slowly that the singers find it difficult to maintain constant pitch.
But it is the arias from the lost La finta savia (Laurenzi’s arias were published separately) that form not only the substance of the CD but also its main interest. The convoluted plot bears no relationship to the story of Arethusa and the river god Alpheus as told in Book 5 of Ovid’s Metamorphosis, being rather the story of how Aretusa (the pretended wise woman of the title), the daughter of Sardanapolis, conceals her sensual nature from her multiple suitors by becoming a pupil of the Cumaean sibyl, a conceit leading to many of the opera’s complications. The three arias recorded here not only very evidently bear witness to Renzi’s intense dramatic abilities, but also Laurenzi’s ability to write flowing cantabile lines. This is especially the case with the long strophic variations that form ‘Stolto Melanto’. All three arias are nicely sung by Elena Cecchi Fedi, who probes the text in the way we might have expected Renzi to do but with a rather thin soprano lacking the distinctive features her forebear obviously possessed. The remainder consists of three arias for two different roles, one a comic character of the kind that always feature in 17th-century Venetian opera. They are well by sung by countertenor Carlo Vistoli, who displays a winning musicality in his contributions.
In addition to the Finta savia arias, the disc includes three other arias by Laurenzi from a collection published in Venice in 1641, and several instrumental pieces, including arrangements for keyboard of madrigals by Ceresini and Domenico Ferrabosco very well played by Filippo Pantieri on a fine copy of a 17th-century Neapolitan harpsichord. The programme is indeed fascinating throughout. The recording, made in a large salon, is over-resonant.
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]ny first recording of music by such a major figure as Claudio Monteverdi should be celebrated; the fact that his Scherzi Musicali (published by his brother, who also contributes two pieces, in 1607) have not previously made it on to disk is that 17 strophic arias sung in three parts but up to six sopranos and a single voice, separated by ritornelli in which the violinists and recorder player compete to add as many ornaments as they can, accompanied by keyboards, pluckers and a symphonia with drone, might be a challenging experience – and so it turned out. Enthusiastic as the singers are, and sweet as their voices might be, they should not have been persuaded to consent to allowing themselves to be recorded; I gain nothing by being hyper-critical, so will leave the review there. To be fair, though, I don’t think I ever want to hear another recording of the set – perhaps one or two pieces in the context of a more varied concert.
[dropcap]D[/dropcap]uring the baroque period, it was customary for composers to set the same psalm texts many times as demanded by the liturgical requirements of Vespers services. This typically enterprising recording from Weser-Renaissance under Manfred Cordes brings us seven of the surviving settings of “In you, O Lord, I put my trust”, an especially poignant text for Rosenmüller, whose seemingly meteoric career in Leipzig was cut short in the early 1650s by scandal, and he was forced to live for nearly thirty years in exile. There are three solo versions (one each for soprano and tenor with a pair of violins and continuo, and one for alto with an additional pair of violas), two duets (soprano & alto, alto & tenor, each with violins and continuo), one for pairs of sopranos, tenors and violins, and finally a larger setting for five voices with five instruments. As always with this ensemble, the singing and playing are top notch, and the understanding of the architecture of the music, the pacing, the balance of individual voices and instruments is perfect. On the latter point, Cordes opts for violas da gamba for the middle parts with dulcian on the bottom and organ and chitarrone continuo. For all the praise I’ve lavished on the performances, however, the sources of the music (readily available online) reveal, for example, that the largest setting on the disc should have been much larger – two four-part choruses, one doubled by strings and crowned by a free violin line, the other reinforced by brass with a cornetto on top; perhaps the re-working was necessary on purely financial grounds, but surely it should be mentioned in the booklet notes. Would I rather have this rendition than none? Absolutely!
Victoria Musicae, Josep R. Gil-Tarrega
Brilliant Classics 95263
[dropcap]F[/dropcap]rom the number of world premiere recordings on this CD, we are clearly being given a privileged insight into the relatively unfamiliar world of the early Baroque Maestros de Capilla of the Corpus Christi Royal College of Valencia. The music for Compline and the litany for the Octave of the Feast of Corpus Christi is composed by Maximo Rios, Antonio Ortells, Anceto Baylon, Jose Hinojosi, Marcos Perez and Joan Baptista Comes and linked together by plainchant. Given the present obscurity of the composers, the music is remarkably good, inventive and accomplished, while the performances by Victoria Musicae are also generally pleasing, with just occasional lapses in tuning. Dating from the second half of the 17th century, the music is performed by a choir, with five soloists, an organ, theorbo, violon and bajon. This is the best thing about low-cost labels such as Brilliant Classics – for very little outlay of money, you can achieve an unparalleled insight into an unsuspected body of music, which turns out to have its own unique virtues and charms. Fascinatingly, the music which to my ear it most closely resembled was the Spanish music of the New World, recently so in vogue.
Siglo de Oro, Patrick Allies
+ Music by A. Gabrieli, Handl (Gallus), Hassler, Lassus
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]lthough not related to the more famous Michael Praetorius, Hieronymus Praetorius is part of a musical dynasty based in Hamburg, a city in which he seems to have spent his entire life. This is slightly surprising in that his music exhibits a number of external influences, not least that of Venetian polychoral music, but it a useful reminder that, while some Renaissance composers accrued influences by working and studying abroad, many others simply studied the latest manuscript or printed music and learned its secrets that way. This certainly seems to be the case with Praetorius’ magnificent Holy Week Mass Tulerunt Dominum meum, which displays a heady mixture of influences, including that of the Gabrielis. The rich warm tones of Siglo de Oro recorded in chapel of Merton College Oxford are ideal for this opulent repertoire, but it is clear that both choir and conductor, Patrick Allies, carry a torch for this overlooked masterpiece. Praetorius’ music receives the ultimate test here by being placed in a context of some of the finest Holy Week music of the period written by composers such as Lassus, Handl, Hassler and Andrea Gabrieli. While all of these composers undoubtedly helped Praetorius mould his musical style, what is perhaps more remarkable is the individuality his music demonstrates. Through this remarkable mass, the motet on which Praetorius based it and a luminescent setting of O vos omnes, Siglo de Oro have cast a whole new light on a composer hitherto largely known for a few stock Christmas pieces and little else.