Journal for the study and practice of early music
directed by Arnaldo Morelli
LIM Editrice [2020]. 242 pp, €30
ISSN 1120-5741;

The 2020 RECERCARE contains seven studies, four in English and three in Italian, all the fruit of investigative perseverance, on specific works, prints, sources, situations or occasions. The relevance of uncovered historical details intrinsic to the creation of the music itself makes each article such a rewarding read. The full documentation, often provided in appendices, has more than a supportive role: aside from the specific cases discussed, it may greatly serve other researchers. Recercare is therefore an exponential boon to musical research.

Elena Abramov-van Rijk  asksTo whom did Francesco Landini address his madrigal Deh, dimmi tu’ [‘Say, tell me you … Who do you think you are!?’] While she describes the unusual musical and poetic structure of this ballata, which we have from various sources, it is its popularity and confrontational, accusatory tone that begs for a motive. The anonymous text could well be by Landini himself (Florence, 1325-1397), and the invective directed at a contemporary he knew or who was widely known, who accumulated valuable, portable riches in ‘easy’ ways. The author finds two potential candidates, both acclaimed court entertainers, whom she refers to (unfortunately, I think) as ‘buffoons’. In fact, both probably merited their riches, gained not-so-easily at all. The ballata itself does not refer to a performer, but every word seems applicable, and the careers of both are impressive: Dolcibene de’ Tori, crowned regem ystrionum in 1355 by the Roman Emperor Charles IV and invited to perform in many other courts, was an actor and ioculator (juggler), a poet (his poems ranging from the sacred to his problems with arthritis and impotence, sometimes with scurrilous vocabulary), a composer of canzonette, a singer, an organist and lutenist, and the protagonist of nine of Franco Sacchetti’s 300 anecdotal stories. Bindo di Cione, of Siena, the other, also served Charles IV and in other courts. It is the interpretation of Landini’s famous madrigal (of ca. 1355) that suggests so vividly how these talented entertainers thrived. The complete musical transcription follows.

Patrizio Barbieri ’s ‘Music printing and selling in Rome: new findings on Palestrina, Kerle and Guidotti, 1554–1574’ discusses four newly found disparate documents, presented as four pieces of an incomplete ‘mosaic’, and lastly, the inventory of a Roman bookseller and of a musician from Cambrai which included instruments, printed or handwritten vocal works, an iron music stand used while playing the harpsichords, and an erasable slate with staves for drafting music on. The description and purpose of the editions documented, and the contracts to publish and market them, show who covered the initial expenses, and whether any assistance was offered to authors or others. The publications discussed in detail are Palestrina’s Missarum liber primus (1554) and Kerle’s hymni totius anni et Magnificat (1558-60). The musical inventory of a general Roman bookseller, Antonio Maria Guidotti, includes a great number of almost exclusively Venetian prints of vocal music, mostly madrigals, plus treatises: B. Rossetti’s 1529 Libellus De Rudimentis Musices, G. M. Lanfranco’s 1533 Scintille di musica, and G. Zarlino’s 1558-2 Le Istitutioni harmoniche. The original documents in the Appendix may be useful to others for reflections and comparisons.

Franco Pavans ‘La musica per chitarrone di Giacomo Antonio Pfender. Nuove acquisizioni’ identifies Pfender, detto il Tedeschino, as the composer of some pieces for archlute in a manuscript in the Archivio Estense in Modena (and in a facsimile)1 previously attributed to an older composer, Alessandro Piccinini (1566-1638).

Pfender is known for having collected and published two states of Kapsberger’s Libro primo d’intavolatura di chitarrone in 1604 in Venice. They were close friends in their student days in Augsburg, and based on Kapsberger’s dates (1580-1651) they were in their early 20s in 1604. Pfender’s name reappears on designs for the frontispiece of another chitarrone collection, found in the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de san Fernando in Madrid, where he is named as one of the composers. What the two collections share is a monogram resembling a stick figure with outstretched arms, turned-out feet, and a dot for the ‘head’. It actually consists of four superimposed letters, only two of which were previously noticed: an A and a swirl from its point to the middle of its right side form a P, thus suggesting Alessandro Piccinini. There are also short lines under the A’s two ‘feet’, a wide line balanced on its point, and a central dot above that line.

Pavan brilliantly deciphered the other two letters this monogram. The left side of A and the dot form a dotted capital I preceding AP, and the wide top line uses the right side of A to make a T. İAPT stands for Giacomo (Iacomo or Ioannes) Antonio Pfender, and T for Tedesco (German).

Many more useful considerations accompany this discovery: relations between Roman musical circles and Modena, the handwriting and probable date of the tablature, and a list of its 28 pieces: of which 7, not known from other sources, are attributed to ‘HK’ (Kapsberger), 9 to ‘AP’(?), 5 to ‘İAPT’ and several unattributed. Pavan modestly considers not quite resolved whether those identified as by ‘AP’ are attributable to Piccinini or to Pfender, but after keeping readers in legitimate doubt he adds that the abbreviations HK and AP appear to be in a different hand and ink! The facsimile of the Modena manuscript names only Kapsberger, Piccinini, and G. Viviani, and its editor, Francesca Torelli, was therefore forced to remark that the styles of HK and the older AP were surprisingly similar, so perhaps they were quoting each other! It is too bad that SPES (Archivum Musicum) no longer exists, because continuing this research and revising that introduction would be quite useful.

The Appendix gives Pfender’s letter of dedication of Kapsberger’s Libro primo d’intavolatura di chitarrone. He respectfully addressed Kapsberger as his fratello osservandissimo, and signed fratello amorevolissimo, ‘very loving brother’. It is a curious dedication, since Kapsberger had apparently not requested or given permission for publication. Pfender clears his conscience by saying that he published them in order to make Kapsberger a gift of what he stole, since up to then the pieces were so universally desired that they had become donnicciuole [derogatory term for little old women], whereas now he can peacefully recognize them and accept them back!

1 G. Kapsberger – A. Piccinini – G. Vivianai, Intavolatura di chitarrone. Mss. Modena, ed. facs., introduzione di Francesca Torelli, Firenze, SPES, 1999.

In March 2019 Maddalena Bonechi’s edition of G. B. da Gagliano’s Varie musiche, libro primo, 1623 was reviewed here. Her edition includes as much biographical information on Marco da Gagliano’s less famous brother Giovanni Battista (1594-1651) as there was to discuss. It also gave analyses of the works and their texts. Her present article, ‘Parole, immagini e musica nelle pratiche devozionali della compagnia di San Benedetto Bianco a Firenze – alcuni possibili contributi di da Gagliano’ focuses on the texts, imagery and music as essential to the devotional practices of the Florentine religious confraternity to which Giovanni Battista (and possibly Marco) belonged, and relates how paintings, poetry and music were fused in their spiritual activities. Whether or not the religious compositions in Gagliano’s publication were designed for the San Benedetto Bianco congregation, at least one was performed there: Ecco ch’io verso il sangue, presumably for a theatrical enactment of the passion and death of Jesus, along with the laments of Mary, traditionally for Good Friday. Depictions of the Passion and themes exalting God in comparison with one’s own nothingness and of penitence, enhanced the ritual flagellation practices of the members, who strived to gain insight from such first-hand experience. The beauty of the music and art may indeed have attenuated the rough physical sensory input incurred to stimulate and attain this understanding.

Lucas G. Harris – Robert L. Kendrick gave a curious title,Of nuns fictitious and real: revisiting Philomela angelica (1688)’ to their fortuitous discovery and comparative analysis. A Benedictine nun, Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602 – ca.1677), had her 12 solo motets, Scherzi di sacra melodia, printed in score with a separate vocal part book in 1648 by Alessandro Vincenti. Only the vocal parts of this Venetian print survive. Forty years later Daniel Speer published a collection of Italian sacred works, his Philomela angelica, anagrammatically tagged “Res Plena Dei” [Daniel Speer], and attributed to ‘a Roman nun’. Speer’s print contains 24 motets, of which 6, with their continuo lines, are by Cozzolani, 3 by Cazzati, 1 duet attributed to the Ursuline nun Leonarda, and 14 not yet identifiable. What is fortunate is that in his search for Italian sacred pieces that would appeal to Lutherans in southwest Germany, Speer did have the continuo line.

By comparison of sources or by conjecture, Speer simplified the vocal writing, heavy ornamentation being out of fashion, deleted some Italian tempo or ‘mood’ indications, added string parts or sections, and slightly adapted the continuo figures to more Germanic usage. Harris and Kendrick are attempting to reconstruct Cozzolani’s originals, if they can distinguish her harmony and rhetoric from Speer’s arrangements. They have more to go by in the Cazzati and Leonarda pieces, which survive with their continuo parts.

Valerio Morucci  examines part of the private correspondence of Christine of Sweden relating to her musical patronage and employment of singers, in ‘L’orbita musicale di Cristina di Svezia e la circolazione di cantanti nella seconda metà del Seicento’. Administrative documents, such as registers and accounts, have generally gone missing, but communications with singers and with other patrons, courts, cappellas, theaters, and cities (Rome, Venice, Mantua, Modena), await researchers who follow her lead. The degree of cooperation between other courts and hers, her granting of freedom to modify agreements in order for singers to accept additional work, and to establish goodwill between competing patrons, is surprising and admirable. Even this first exploration (the Appendix presents citations from 16 documents) regarding a small number of female singers and castratos will be of interest. They include: Nicola and Antonia Coresi, Barbara Riccioni, Giuseppe Maria Donati detto il Baviera, Giuseppe Fede, Alessandro Bifolchi, Giovanni Paolo Bonelli; other castratos such as Alessandro Cecconi, Giuseppe Bianchi, Antonio Rivani, and Domenico Cecchi detto il Cortona. Some were retained with salaries while many remained absolutely independent, such as Giovanni Francesco Grossi ‘detto Siface’ and Giuseppe Maria Segni ‘detto il Finalino’.

‘Writing a tenor’s voice: Cesare Grandi and the Siena production of Il Farnaspe (1750)’ by Colleen Reardon is a vividly engaging story. The details, gleaned from 119 letters to the inexperienced sponsoring impresario, Francesco Sansedoni, regard the ultimate success of a single opera, beset by numerous potential crises as originally planned, but methodically high-jacked by the ingenious, competent, hard-working, third tenor – and not only to further the careers of his second soprano wife and himself. Cesare Grandi offered and sufficiently motivated his unsolicited advice, eventually accepted by Sansedoni, reversing or manipulating almost every artistic and practical decision – major and minor changes affecting the music itself, the casting, the staging, the order of arias and their keys, the costumes, to suit the musical taste of the patron, and the local politics, or for practical reasons like not having the orchestral parts in the right keys after an aria was shifted from its original place in the libretto or even to be sung by a different singer. Famous as Siena was and is for its two summer Palios, tied to religious holidays, Grandi even obtained a change of its July date!

The recently discovered cache of letters containing Grandi’s psychologically astute suggestions to the younger Sansedoni would probably be bewildering to decipher and interpret without the help of Reardon’s orderly, detailed account. I don’t really have a pressing reason for rereading all 40 pages of this wonderful study (plus 15 pages with 29 appended letters), but it does bear more than one reading for the pure pleasure of pondering what a staggering pastiche an opera in 1750 was: the compromises, the pressures, deadlines met, singers cast, the copying, transposing, rewriting or replacing of arias by unnamed composers – thanks to the initiatives of the third tenor…

Barbara Sachs


J. S. Bach Die Passionen

Johannes-Passion BWV 245, Fassung 1749 Gaechinger Cantorey, directed by Hans-Christoph Rademann, August 2019 (CD 1 & 2)
Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 Kammerchor & Barockorchester Stuttgart, directed by Frieder Bernius, March 2015 (CD 3, 4 & 5)
Markus-Passion BWV 247 amarcord, Kölner Akademie, directed by Michael Alexander Willens, March 2009 (CD 6)
Carus CV 83.046

This boxed set from Carus of all three surviving Bach Passions offers a chance not only to hear three very different styles of performance as they were recorded by different groups in 2009, 2015 and 2019 but allows us to sample the work of the scholarly Diethard Hellmann and Andreas Glöckner in the reconstruction of the Markus-Passion, which is presented with the actor Dominique Horowitz speaking the text of Mark’s gospel for Bach’s evangelista and turba parts that are lost.

There is a degree of ‘house style’ about the performances, and both the Johannes-Passion and the Matthäus-Passion use conventional German choirs with independent soloists singing the narration and arias rather than following what we know to have been Bach’s practice in basing the singers (however many there were) around the concertisten, adding additional ripienists as available and desirable. Not so with the Markus-Passion, where the singing is performed by the ensemble amarcord – 2 sopranos, 2 altos, 2 tenors a baritone and 2 basses, a group established by former members of Leipzig’s Thomanerchor in 1992, which fulfils the sense of cohesion between the singing style of the arias and ensemble numbers – mostly chorales with just two choruses. The instrumental ensemble of the Kölner Akademie has 2 flauti (although I am sure they are traversi), 2 oboes and one fagotto, 2 gambas and a lute, 3 violins and a single viola, ‘cello and violone with an organ. So this performance, recorded live in the Frauenkirche Dresden in March 2009, sounds in many ways the most up-to-date with a clear bright sound, well-balanced in style and dynamic between the singers and players. I myself am glad to have heard an honest version of this work, so well reconstructed by Glöckner, without the borrowed or newly-composed material that appears in other editions.

For the John recording, though it is more recent (2019), we revert to the old German style of performance, with the (excellent) chamber choir and band of the Gaechinger Cantorey (25 singers with a string band of and 6 woodwind, so pretty equally balanced) and five independent soloists. The evangelist is the excellent and mellifluous Patrick Grahl, who also sings the arias; Peter Harvey sings the words of Christ with Matthias Winckler singing the part of Pilate and the bass arias, so we miss hearing the Vox Christi singing Mein teurer Heiland in its sprightly D major just after the death on the cross – a key part of Bach’s understanding of Johannine theology. While Benno Schach is a good alto, I myself would not have considered Elizabeth Watts a good match in either vocal quality or style for this music in this company. Despite splendid singing from Patrick Grahl and the basses, I do not find the overall style sufficiently clear to raise it above other excellent performances.

At the head of Frieder Bernius’ 2015 Matthew Passion, there is an interesting note disclosing that he found the dynamic contrasts available to him when using only single voices in the 1980s too slight. In the mid-1990s he decided to take Bach’s famous 1730 Entwurff (which is arguing for adequate resources to enable music to be performed properly in the Leipzig churches on Sundays, allowing for illness and other hazards) at its face value, claiming it as a blueprint for what Bach thought desirable for any performance. So while aiming for clarity and a good balance between vocal and instrumental sound, this recording has, like Rademann’s John, returned to larger numbers. He uses singers with strings in Chorus I, and with similar strings in Chorus II, drawing all the bit parts from the two choruses while leaving the evangelist part and all the arias from whichever chorus they are scored to a fine quartet of Hannah Morrison, Sophie Harmsen, Tilman Lichdi and Peter Harvey. Christian Immler sings just the Vox Christi. There is a fagotto with Chorus II, but not with I. The desire to match the vocal tone to that of the period instrument bands is entirely right, but not always convincing – such large numbers may give Bernius the dynamic range he likes, and it may make an exciting performance, but it does not necessarily make a good recording. Contrast this sound with that of the Matthew Passion by Pygmalion with Raphaël Pichon, reviewed in April.

Would I recommend this Carus boxed set? In many ways, it is a fine example of the current state of the performance tradition in Germany, and it is invaluable for the Markus-Passion in its latest edition. The scholarship behind all the editions is up to date and trustable, and the larger groups in the John and Matthew Passions are excellent of their kind. I am glad to have heard them and there is much to admire, but they do not belong on my must-have list.

David Stancliffe


Mondonville: Grands Motets

Choeur & Orchestre Marguerite Louise, directed by Gaétan Jarry
Versailles  Spectacles CVS 063

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This continues the invaluable Versailles Spectacles series devoted to the grand motet, large-scale psalm settings for soloists, chorus and orchestra that were the principal form of sacred music in the France of Louis XIV and Louis XV. Those of Mondonville belong among later examples, succeeding and indeed vying in popularity with those of Rameau, whose small output was the subject of the previous release in the series, performances given by the same ensemble. My review of that outstanding CD can be found on this site.

Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville was born in 1711, a member of a poor but aristocratic Languedoc family. At the age of about twenty, he went to Paris, quickly establishing himself as a composer of instrumental music and a violinist. The cover portrait of him by Quentin de la Tour depicts an agreeable and handsome man in his late 30s whose social skills won him favour at court from the likes of Mme de Pompadour. Mondonville gained a number of posts in the Chapelle Royale, including in 1739 that of master (Intendant) and his music was so successful at the famous Concert Spirituel in Paris that he became its most frequently performed composer of all time. A number of his motets were first performed there. Although Isbé (1742), his first work for the Paris Opéra, was a failure, Mondonville’s later operas achieved considerable success, the ballet-héroique Le carnaval du Parnasse (1749) in particular opening with a run of no fewer than 27 consecutive performances.

The present recording includes three of Mondonville’s nine grands motets. Of these Dominus regnavit (a setting of Psalm 93), composed in 1734, is the earliest and indeed the first of the motets, while Coeli enarrant gloriam Dei (Psalm 19) and In exitu Israel (Psalm 115), dating from 1749 and 1753 respectively are late works that represent his final examples of the genre. Of these, In exitu is an outright masterpiece, a superbly dramatic work that fully captures the grand sweep, colourful diversity and rich harmonic texture of a text that tells of the flight from Egypt. The passages narrating the miraculous crossing of the Jordan are vividly depicted, the seething swirling river parted to the stuttering wonderment of the chorus alternating between declamatory homophony and contrapuntal writing. Perhaps even more remarkable is the succeeding haute-contre solo, later with chorus, coloured by dark bassoon sonority, ‘Montes exultaverunt’ (The mountains skipped like rams’) and following rhetorical bass solo, ‘Quid est tibi, mare …? (What aileth thee, O thou sea). Also noteworthy is the Italian influence of a passage such as the soprano ariette ‘Qui timent’ (Ye that fear the Lord). The entire work bears more than eloquent testimony to Mondonville’s mature style.

Unsurprisingly neither of the other motets quite matches this quality, though the colourful text of Psalm 93, which also speaks of floods, evokes a powerful pictorial response to ‘the surges of the sea’ and praise of the ‘voices of many waters’. Coeli enarrant, planned on a less ambitious scale, opens more conventionally, but is elevated to near transcendence in a wonderful passage that speaks of God’s creative handiwork, the setting of a ‘tabernacle for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber’. There is a marvellous sense of mystery in Mondonville’s setting, a bass solo, rising from the darkest pianissimo to full glory and the restrained entry of the chorus.    

I gave the highest praise to the performances of the Rameau motets by Gaétan Jarry and his supremely talented forces, praise that can be fully reiterated in the present case. On every level, this is another issue that demands to be heard by anyone remotely drawn to the music of the French Baroque.

Brian Robins


Enigma Fortuna

Zacara da Teramo : Complete Works
La Fonte Musica, Michele Pasotti
237:00 (4 CDs in a card box)
Alpha Classics Alpha 640

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Zacara of Teramo, AKA Antonio di Berardo di Andrea, is a kenspeckle figure who has only recently coalesced out of a number of shadowy figures of the period as a result of scholarly research into the early Italian Renaissance. (The ‘new’ Zacara now incorporates all of the first three entries under Z in J and E Roche’s excellent 1981 ‘Dictionary of Early Music’!) Active in the Brescia region, Zacara (‘Tiny’) probably acquired his nickname due to his restricted growth, while further deformities meant he had only ten digits altogether on his hands and feet, a fact unshrinkingly demonstrated in a surviving portrait. Now that a larger body of music by this one composer has been identified, he has emerged as an extremely important link between the ars subtilior of the 13th century and the music of the early Renaissance. This comprehensive 4-CD account of his complete sacred and secular oeuvre, including many premiere recordings, is a revelation, both sacred and secular works receiving very fine performances indeed on convincing blends of voices and instruments. It is perhaps easier to identify a specific individual style once a body of work has been confidently ascribed to one composer, but it is hard to see why it wasn’t clear all along that this was the work of a single distinctive and highly talented musical mind. There is also satisfaction for us nowadays in the discovery that a man coping with considerable physical challenges could be so successful in his chosen career and lead such a long and fruitful life in the 14th and 15th centuries. The sacred music (recorded on the first two CDs) in particular is among the finest I know from the period, and these superb idiomatic accounts by La Fonte Musica go a long way to re-establishing Zacara’s seminal role in the development of sacred Italian music. This is not to diminish the attractiveness of the two CDs of Zacara’s secular music, which open with his splendid Cacciando per gustar with its vivid evocation of a busy marketplace.

D. James Ross


A 14th-century Salmagundi

Blue Heron
BHCD 1011

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How lovely to see the enterprising Bostonian vocal ensemble Blue Heron back in the recording studio, albeit for this rather brief CD of music earlier in period than their previous impressive discography – particularly memorable was a ground-breaking series of CDs of music from the Peterhouse Partbooks. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Blue Heron prove superbly in tune with this 14th-century music, which I notice they have approached through recordings of the secular music of Johannes Ockeghem. The voices are occasionally joined by instruments for music by Machaut, Cruce, Vitry, Landini, Jacob Senleches and Jacopo da Bologna. Incidentally, this CD has nothing to do with psalms, the title coming from Rabelais’s Pantagruel and denoting a hodgepodge, and its contents consisting of secular songs! The performances are as I have suggested entirely enjoyable, although I noticed some unfortunate mic popping on a couple of tracks. It is interesting to hear the voices of Blue Heron sounding so natural one-to-a-part and with instruments, including a fine idiomatic contribution on bray harp by the group’s director, Scott Metcalfe. 

D. James Ross


Banchieri | Giulio Cesare Croce: Festino del Giovedi Grasso (1608)

Dramatodía, Alberto Allegrezza
Tactus TC 550008

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This performance of extracts from sequences of music and texts for Carnival time by Banchieri and Croce is presented with the irony and humour essential for this celebration of the reversal of the normal order of things. Like the comedic tightrope walker whose technique must be flawless, the singers of Dramatodía adapt their singing style to a range of parody productions, but at the same time demonstrate that they can sing beautifully too. If I found this element of the CD slightly outweighed by caricature and narration, and felt occasionally that we needed a visual element to bring the programme fully to life, the more seemly performances were entertaining and enjoyable. This is one of the many musical elements in early Baroque Italy, which eventually aggregated into the first operas, and it is intriguing to hear this fine music put into something of a dramatic context. The highlight is undoubtedly Banchieri’s Contrapunto bestiale alla mente!

D. James Ross

Concert-Live performance

A Bach Family Concert at the Thomaskirche, Leipzig

It was only a fleeting visit. But even a fleeting visit to the Bach Festival in Leipzig is not to be spurned if you’ve not previously visited the city in which the majority of Bach’s greatest sacred works were composed. Their composition of course formed part of his duties as Kantor of the Thomaschule, the choir school that served to provide choristers for Leipzig’s churches, most importantly the Nicolaikirche, at that time the principal town church, and the Thomaskirche.

First impressions of  21st-century Leipzig to a new visitor are likely to be of a city positively seething with life and energy, not so surprising when one learns it is home to one of the largest student populations in Germany. This bustle and vitality spills over into the annual Bachfest, which far from being restricted to the hallowed ground of the churches in which Bach worked or concert halls includes among nearly 150 events popular concerts that take over the central market square.

This year’s festival was held under the theme ‘Bach – We Are Family’, a motto certainly appropriate for the concert I attended in the Thomaskirche on 11 June. It was given by Les Talens Lyriques under their director Christophe Rousset, with the Vocalconsort Berlin and soloists Rachel Redmond (s), Hagar Sharvit (a), William Knight (t), and Krešimir Stražanac (b-bar).  As in Bach’s day, the performers were situated in the unusually spacious organ gallery, doubtless the reason we know Bach favoured the Thomaskirche for larger-scale choral works. The programme was an intriguing one, if curious by modern-day tastes. It took the form of a concert given in Hamburg by C. P. E. Bach in 1786, a concert that would be the last given by Bach’s now 72-year-old son. It appears to have served two purposes, one practical, since it was a charity concert, the other Bach’s desire at the end of his life to promote his own legacy and, unusually for the time, include historical works that served to preserve the heritage of his father and Handel, his father’s great contemporary.

Rousset’s reconstruction made little attempt at pure historical accuracy, not least because he used only the smallish choir possible in the Thomaskirche gallery (three voices per part), when accounts of the Hamburg concert tell us C. P. E employed a large choir that included amateur women singers with Bach’s professional males. Notwithstanding the use of small numbers made the performance of Credo from the B-minor Mass especially interesting to one long ago convinced by the Joshua Rifkin/Andrew Parrott argument in favour of Bach’s use of one-voice-per-part in his choral works. From where I sat in the pews facing the nave near the front of the church contrapuntal sound tended to become confused in quicker music, but sounded much better in slower music and, significantly, at its best with solo passages such as the duet ‘Et in unum’, where the sweetness of the strings was also noteworthy. It would of course be idle to try to draw too many conclusions from such a brief encounter in one place in the Thomaskirche, especially as I’m told there was more wood in the church in Bach’s day; that may well have soaked up more of the resonance. Notwithstanding it made for a fascinating, thought-provoking experience.

Credo, which having been written as part of a work designed for the Catholic court in Dresden could never have been performed in the Thomaskirche in Bach’s day, was in fact the only work of J. S’s to be included, the remainder being devoted to two excerpts from Messiah, ‘I know that my redeemer liveth’ and ‘Hallelujah’, given the context incongruously if very well sung in English. The remainder of the concert featured music by C. P. E himself, most notably in his Magnificat in D, originally composed in 1749 as an informal application to succeed his father as Thomaskantor, but here given in the version adapted for Hamburg that added three trumpets. As my illustration shows,Rousset used players employing ‘holeless’ trumpets and to exciting effect (they can be seen to the far right of the orchestra). The performances by choir and orchestra throughout were excellent, though the solo singing was more variable, the best of it coming from the outstanding young Croatian bass Krešimir Stražanac. But this was not really an occasion for detailed critical analysis, rather for this listener at least an intensely moving opportunity to hear the music of Bach and his most talented son just a few metres from where the remains of the great Kantor now lie at rest after their reburial in the chancel after the Johanniskirche was bombed in World War II.

Brian Robins

PHOTO CREDIT: Christophe Rousset directs Vocalconcert Berlin and Les Talens Lyriques in the Thomaskirche, Leipzig © Bachfest 2022


Mouton: Missa Faulte d’argent & Motets

The Brabant Ensenble, conducted by Stephen Rice
Hyperion CDA68385

Proclaiming Jean Mouton as one of the finest Franco-Flemish composers in the musical era between Josquin and Palestrina – which he is – does not make him outstanding. It merely renders him equal with a substantial number of similarly fine composers from that era who have enriched the canon of sacred vocal music with their works. Thanks to advances in scholarship and in performance practices, we can now also appreciate the intense distinctiveness of each of these composers, and that same singularity in each of their compositions. This second recording of Mouton’s music by The Brabant Ensemble (following CDA67933; acclaim also for The Tallis Scholars with another Mass and motets on CDGIM 047) introduces yet more hitherto unmined riches from his oeuvre with only one brief item having been commercially recorded previously. These wonderful tracks simply roll out one after another, individually varied while combining to create a disc that is both enjoyable and at the same time rewarding, spiritually and aesthetically. Characteristics of Mouton’s personal style include judicious use of reduced scoring, often employing pairs of voices successively; passages showing the influence of faburden; and the dramatic use of dissonance, not just at cadences. All these are in the context of the finest melody and harmony imparting a sense of spaciousness and yet an uncanny knack to give the impression that more voices are singing than is actually the case: there was more than one point at which I needed to confirm that a particular work was indeed in four parts throughout and not what had begun to sound like five (at least!).

The seven motets that form the first half of this programme all exhibit the edifying and excellently wrought features mentioned above. Subsequently they all appear in the Mass, to such an extent that it emerges as one of the finest from this remarkable generation of supremely gifted – and presumably well-taught – composers. Settings of the Agnus from Josquin, culminating in those for five and (especially) four voices by Byrd composed during the early to mid 1590s, can rise to sublime levels, not only here in Mouton’s Mass, but also in so many of these Masses by so many of these composers. Meanwhile today we are blest with choirs who understand this music, not just reproducing the notes accurately, but doing so with comprehension and empathy, both for the meaning of the music and for the manner in which that music, and the knowledge of that music, can best be dispensed. The entire performance of the Missa Faulte d’argent, which forms the second half of this programme, epitomizes all that is currently best in the performing and recording of Renaissance choral music. Every note is clear. Every melodic line is audible and can be followed in each part without difficulty by the listener. Every harmonic interaction, be it in the weaving and occasional clashing of melodic lines or in homophonic passages, is perfectly weighted. Tempi and volumes are calibrated to respond sensitively to the text and to the sound made by the music itself, so that there is never bland perfection nor emotional exaggeration, and the music and its text can be expressed as rhetoric or narrative, to inform, edify and delight the listener. Mouton has done humanity an enormous favour by composing this Mass. The Brabant Ensemble has done Mouton an enormous favour by selecting this Mass, and by recording it so eloquently. And the great thing is: there is so much more of this quality of music, by composers of this quality, still waiting to be rediscovered, and so much that has already been rediscovered that is waiting to be performed and recorded. And this is besides all the works we know already by (randomly adding to names already dropped) the likes of Fevin, Phinot, Gombert, Manchicourt, Crecquillon, Clemens and a heavenly host of others. In conclusion, I should like to make a plea to The Brabant Ensemble to consider making a disc like this one, consisting of the music of Lheritier. His few commercially recorded sacred pieces are spread over several discs; these motets are superb; he was respected by Palestrina … Meanwhile we can be grateful for this second recording by The Brabant Ensemble of motets and a mass by Mouton – he has proved more than worthy of their (exceptional) further attention.

Richard Turbet

Sheet music

Nathaniel Giles: English Sacred Music

Early English Church Music [volume] 63
ISBN 978 0 85249 965 8 | ISMN 979 0 2202 2643 4 (Hardback)
xxx, 130pp. £70
Stainer & Bell

This second volume dedicated to the few surviving works of Nathaniel Giles (1558?–1634) contains service music. While presenting an edition of the First Service is straightforward, the Second Service can only be reconstructed from the surviving sources to within a certain degree of completeness and the editor Joseph Sargent has had to put his creative hat on for passages where the solo parts are not available, and the Short Service is very fragmentary indeed but both Sargent and the series editor, David Skinner, recommend their contrapuntal possibilities to would-be reconstructionists. After a detailed biography of the composer, Sargent surveys the sources and lays out his editorial approach. Then come detailed descriptions of the sources and a meticulous editorial commentary on the three services. Then to the music itself, laid out on pages larger than A4 size that can accommodate the up to ten voices (two five-part choirs – cantoris and decani, according to Anglican tradition) and the organ part(s). I had to do some brain juggling when systems were compressed and a voice from the lower group appeared in the middle of the combined groups, but generally the approach works. The added parts are printed in smaller notation. The paper is slightly shiny – I did not find that a problem but I have heard others complain about using such paper for music because it can sometimes catch light awkwardly and become difficult to read. I hope more than anything else that this marvellous tome (at another bargain price of only £70!) will encourage performances of the music – it very much deserves to be heard!

Brian Clark

Sheet music

Kusser: Serenatas for Dublin

Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era, 210
Edited by Samantha Owens
xxi, four plates, 262pp.
ISBN 978-1-9872-0450-6

This is Samantha Owens’ latest contribution to the (long overdue!) rediscovery of Kusser’s music. It contains the three surviving serenatas (of 21!) that the composer wrote during his time in Ireland: “The Universal Applause of Mount Parnassus” (1711 for Queen Anne’s birthday), “An Idylle on the Peace” (1713 on the Utrecht settlement), and the rather oddly named “No! He’s not dead” (ca. 1707-14, again for Queen Anne). After a French overture, each is a sequence of recitatives, arias and choruses, many with colourful scorings displaying the versatility of the musical establishment in Dublin. The state pomp of the serenata on the Peace inspires the use of three trumpets, while the 1711 work calls for no fewer than nine solo sopranos. Many of the arias are built on dance forms, and Kusser reveals himself to be quite the tunesmith. He was also a self-borrower, here recycling arias from operas he had written in Germany. Two of the serenatas have recorded in full on Hungaroton, and portions of the other by the Irish Baroque Orchestra under Peter Whelan, both groups drawing out the charm of these neglected pieces. Hopefully the publication of this magnificent volume will inspire others to take up the challenge.

Brian Clark