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Recording

Splendour

Organ Music & Vocal Works By Buxtehude, Hassler, Praetorius & Scheidemann
Kei Koito, Il canto di Orfeo, Gianluca Capuano
73:14
deutsche harmonia mundi 8 89854 37672 7

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he star here is the 1624 (restored 1994) Scherer organ in the Stephanskirche, Tangermünde. The repertoire is that of ‘precursors of Bach’ who are, of course, all very competent in their own right. The principal pillars of the programme are ‘free’ organ works by Tunder, Scheidemann and Buxtehude and between them are placed chorale-based music – sometimes extracts from longish sets of variations. We also hear vocal settings of these same melodies contemporary with the organ music, a valuable programming device which others would do well to copy. The playing is sometimes a little laboured but never impossibly so and we certainly get to hear this marvellous instrument in all its glory. The essay (Ger/Fre/Eng) focusses informatively on the music. Further information – including the organ registrations, sung texts and their translations, and artist biographies are available online.

David Hansell

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Sheet music

Motets from the Chansonnier de Noailles

Recent Researches in the Music of the Middle Ages and Early Renaissance, 42
Edited by Gaël Saint-Cricq with Eglal Doss-Quinby and Samuel N. Rosenberg
lxxxiv + 192pp. $360.00.
ISBN 978-0-89579-862-6

[dropcap]N[/dropcap]on-specialists will, I fear, be terrified by this new edition of early one-, two- and (rarely) three-voice motets, such is the overwhelming amount of information contained in the introduction, the discussions of the words and the critical notes. When it comes to the music itself, it is difficult to know quite where to start; as an extreme example, let’s take 26. Bien doit joie demener / IN DOMINO. Firstly we have an “unmeasured transcription” which presents the two parts as they appear in the manuscript (which one can see in glorious colour on the gallica.fr website!), the French texted part in C2 clef and the lower part (which just the first two words of the Latin text) in C3. This is followed in the edition by not one but two measured transcriptions, the second of which lengthens the rests between the phrases (there are only two, which are repeated in a varied sequence) and inverts long and short note values, with a knock-on effect upon the stresses of the underlaid words. I spend my life transcribing manuscript sources and consider myself to have quite sharp logical and pattern-discerning eyes, and I also understand that there are often several ways to interpret what one sees, but – try as I might – I just could not see how some of the measured transcriptions could have been extrapolated from the unmeasured ones. I can, however, understand that there are singers who will be terrified by the original notation but who would like to sing the music, so editions like these are necessary to enable that. At $360 a copy, though, I don’t see it tempting many new singers into the field – this is more likely to end up with all its esteemed forebears on a library shelf where it will be invaluable for scholars of both early motet texts and their music.

Brian Clark

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Sheet music

Francesco Barsanti: Secular Vocal Music

Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era, 197
Edited by Michael Talbot
xxv, 2 + 71pp. $145
ISBN 978-0-89579-867-1

[dropcap]P[/dropcap]erhaps best known for his recorder sonatas and the recently recorded concerti grossi  he published in Edinburgh, Francesco Barsanti’s secular vocal music fills a fairly modest volume. Consisting of five Italian cantatas and six French airs for solo voice and continuo, a four-voice Italian madrigal and two catches in English for four equal voices, it provides another viewpoint from which to consider one of Handel’s contemporaries. With typical thoroughness, Talbot gives as lively a portrait of the composer as is possible, and – as well as comprehensive critical notes – idiomatic translations of the non-English texts are provided. All in all, this is an excellent volume which will be partnered in due course by Jasmin M. Cameron’s versions of the composer’s surviving sacred music. The recitatives are dramatic and the arias tuneful; the three longer French airs might overstay their welcome unless the singer has some impressive ornaments up his or her sleeve; the madrigal might make a welcome and novel addition to an amateur vocal group’s repertoire? Either way, Barsanti’s music deserves to be more widely known, and one hopes that its availability (even if the cost might mean only libraries can afford to buy it!) will encourage performers to explore it.

Brian Clark

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Recording

Couperin: Leçons de Ténèbres & motets

Chantal Santon Jeffrey, Anne Magouët, Benoit Arnould SSB, Les Ombres, Margaux Blanchard, Sylvain Sartre
62:00
Mirare MIR 358

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]’m not unsympathetic to these singers’ desire to explore the drama and passion of Couperin’s remarkable Leçons, but as soloists they are too heavy in tone with too much vibrato for my taste. In duet they sing more gently but much of the delicate filigree ornamentation is still very laboured. I enjoyed the shorter, much less familiar items that complete the programme rather more (one first recording here) and was rather surprised that they rate scarcely a mention in the notes. And quite what a brief movement from an organ mass is doing in the middle of the programme I have no idea. I’m afraid that on several counts this is a case of ‘should have done better’, though the singing of bass Benoit Arnould is consistently of a high standard.

David Hansell

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Monteverdi: Scherzi Musicali (Venezia 1607)

L’Esa Ensemble, Baschenis Ensemble, Sergio Chierici
64:02
Tactus TC 561309
World premiere recording

[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.

Brian Clark

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Johann Simon Mayr: Venetian Solo Motets

Andrea Lauren-Brown soprano, Markus Schäfer tenor, Virgil Mischok bass, I Virtuosi Italiani, Franz Hauk
61:35
Naxos 8.573811

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen Clifford and I started Early Music Review, we always said we would review HIP CDs and others that featured world premiere recordings; all eight tracks – of repertoire dating from 1791 to c. 1802 – on this CD are just that, and (in some respects, despite myself) I enjoyed the experience of hearing them. Mayr is better known these days as an opera composer and these four Marian antiphon settings (no fewer than three Salve Reginas!), three multi-movement motets and a 12-minute dramatic Italian piece confirm his gift for both capturing the mood of words and writing for the voice. The six of the eight works are for soprano (one Salve Regina  is a duet with bass), while the Salve Regina  in B flat and the Italian piece (Qual colpa eterno Dio) are for tenor. The booklet notes contain a wealth of information about the sources and lament the lack of a comprehensive study of this aspect of Mayr’s output; on the basis of this recording, that would seem a fair assessment. Indeed, perhaps some HIPsters would like to explore the four oratorios he wrote for the Mendicanti in Venice?

Brian Clark

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Mozart: Masonic Works

Cantatas and Funeral Music
John Heuzenroeder tenor, Die Kölner Akademie choir & orchestra, Michael Alexander Willens
73:52
K148, 345, 468, 468a, 471, 477, 483, 484, 619 & 623

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] fear the temptation to emulate today’s headline writers and describe a CD of Mozart’s Masonic music as ‘chippings off the master’s block’ is too great to overcome, so I can only apologise. In fact, while all nine works that fall into category were composed with a functional purpose, not all of them are as insignificant as that might imply.
Masonry, at one time frowned upon in Austria, became hugely popular in the 1780s during the reign of the more tolerant Joseph II. Mozart became an initiate at the end of 1784, being followed by Haydn the following February. Anyone interested in Mozart’s Masonic activities is directed to H. C. Robbins Landon’s detailed survey in 1791: Mozart’s Last Year  (1988); suffice it to say here that he evidently took his membership seriously, composing music for a variety of occasions. The most famous of these is the brief, but powerful, intense work known as the Mauerische Trauermusik, K 477 (Masonic Funeral Music), usually heard in an orchestral version with the plangent tones of three basset horns dominating the texture. Here, for the first time so far as I’m aware, it is heard in a conjectural original version (by the musicologist Philippe Autexier) with the Gregorian chant (from the Lamentations of Jeremiah) introduced in the central section given to a male chorus. Although not listed in this way in Mozart’s own thematic catalogue – nor is the version with three basset horns – his listing contains enough anomalies to at least make the proposition feasible. More importantly for the listener to the present CD, it is highly effective, the desolate text adding to the work’s sombre potency.

Two other pieces stand out. One is the celebratory cantata, Laut verkünde unsre Freude, K 623, written for the inauguration of a new temple and Mozart’s last completed work, music that not surprisingly has a strong relationship with Die Zauberflöte, completed two months earlier. Like the earlier cantata, Dir Seele des Weltalls, K429, which includes a charming aria welcoming the arrival of spring, K 623 is scored for tenor, chorus and orchestra, although the latter also includes a duet with a bass soloist (the excellent Mario Borgioni). The remaining pieces are slighter strophic songs for tenor with alternating choral verses or refrains, accompanied by piano or organ. Perhaps the most interesting is Lied zur Gesellenreise, K 468, which concerns the journey toward knowledge and may have been composed for the elevation of Mozart’s father Leopold to a new level in the Masonic hierarchy in March 1785.

In addition to the Masonic music, the CD also includes the interludes to Gebler’s play Thamos, König in Ägyptien, the incidental music from which (including choruses) Mozart worked on over a period of time. While not directly connected with Masonry, the plot concerning overcoming the challenges of life is certainly Masonic in spirit. The interludes were among the last pieces Mozart composed (in the late 1770s) for the play, alternating music of lyrical sensitivity with passages of highly dramatic, powerful orchestration that point towards Idomeneo.

The performances of all this music are outstanding, the Australian tenor John Heuzenroeder being the possessor of an exceptionally agreeable lyric tenor capable not only of an easy fluidity in cantabile passages, but also of making dramatic points in declamatory recitative. Michael Alexander Willens draws excellent, idiomatic playing from the period instrument Die Kölner Akademie, of which he is music director. All in all, this is an excellent CD that explores some of the lesser known contents of the Mozartian treasure chest.

Brian Robins

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Machaut: Fortune’s child

The Orlando Consort
60:40
hyperion CDA68195

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his CD features a sequence of secular songs  by Machaut on the theme of fortune. Whether you perform your Machaut purely vocally, or – as many younger ensembles do – with a mixture of voices and instruments, the frightening complexity and striking originality of Machaut’s music shines through. However, having listened to the Orlando Consort regularly live and on CD, I have puzzled over what it is about their sound that I don’t like and struggle to put my finger on it. The sound is a little opaque, the intonation is not consistently true, perhaps due to vibrato, and the overall sound never seems to me entirely comfortable. I have spoken to people who share my opinion and to others who have no idea what I am talking about, and perhaps this is my problem. Anyway, the CD offers the opportunity to judge for yourself, with a wide and varied selection of Machaut’s finest virelais  and ballades, sung by various combinations of voices from solo, and duet to trio. On the whole, I preferred the solo virelais.

D. James Ross

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Sheet music

Giovanni de Macque: Il Primo Libro de Madrigali a Quattro Voci

Edited by Giuseppina Lo Coco
Biblioteca Musicale n. 32. (LIM, 2017)
x+143pp. €25
ISBN 9788870969252

[dropcap]G[/dropcap]iovanni (Jean) de Macque was born circa 1550 in Valenciennes, then part of the Spanish Netherlands, but he was active in Italy throughout his career, in Rome for a decade (from 1574?), during which time he published five books of madrigals (for A. Gardano, Venice) and became the organist at San Luigi dei Francesi, and in Naples from 1585 until his death in 1614. After a century in which the Italian courts imported musicians and polyphony of the Flemish school, polyphony was already thriving in the hands of Italian composers (Palestrina, Gesualdo and others). This is no way hampered de Macque, who attended the family reunions organized and patronized by Gesualdo, where he was in contact with composers, patrons, and literati. He became part of the Prince’s entourage at least from 1586, the year in which he dedicated his Ricercate et Canzoni francese a Quattro voci  to him (of which only the tenor part survives).

His Primo libro de’ madrigali a 4 voci  of 1586 followed his five previous Venetian madrigal publications, between 1576 and 1583, mostly for 6 voices, and preceded another seven to come out between 1587 and 1613. The books were numbered according to the number of voices, and we have no knowledge of a second book of 4-part madrigals, a Terzo … a 4 voci  appearing in Naples in 1610. The only known complete copy of the Primo libro … was lost during World War II, found in the Jagiellonian Library in Kraków by D. A. D’Alessandro in 1987 and subsequently returned to the Berlin Deutsche Staatsbibliothek. Many lists of de Macque’s works still do not report it.

The LIM has printed these 21 short madrigals (25 to 45 bars each) in a small, easy to hold volume of 150 pages. Most contain three well-spaced systems of the score, with easily readable lyrics, the short melismas alternating with syllabic note-setting and the wonderful counterpoint clear to the eye. Sometimes publishers do not appreciate how important it is to grasp whole phrases in a glance, which we can do here. Each two-page spread of about 20 x 29cm can also be easily scanned.

Ten of the madrigals (I-VI, XII-XIII, and XV-XVI) are by Petrarch, the rest anonymous. The first six set the six stanzas of Petrarch’s 8th Sestina, Là ver’ l’aurora, che sì dolce l’aura  to music, as was also done (in part or in full) by Palestrina, de Lasso, Pietro Vinci, Mateo Flecha el Joven, Striggio, and undoubtedly others before and after de Macque. Each stanza has six lines, without rhyme, each ending with one of six words, according to an ever-revolving order whereby abcdef changes to faebdc. These six madrigals are in F major, with numbers 2 and 5 ending on the dominant. De Macque did not set Petrarch’s concluding tercet, in which the six words appear in the middle and end of three lines – perhaps there not being enough text for another madrigal. The tercet is more a poetic feat than a climax: it sums up the unified theme of frustration with the impossibility of moving Laura’s feelings by love or verse. The 6th madrigal starts with the laughter of the plants and flowers and ends with seven bars in which a skipping dotted rhythm describes the final metaphor: namely that the ‘angelic soul’, his beloved, does not hear his amorous notes, as we, when singing our verses in tears, may as well be trying to catch [run after] the breeze with a lame ox! Zoppo  (lame) is sung to long notes, and l’aura  (the breeze) is Petrarch’s frequent homonym for his unobtainable Laura.

The other two pairs of settings of Petrarch are of Sonnets (192 I’ piansi, or canto, ché ’l celeste lume  and 51 Del mar Tirreno a la sinistra riva). In each the two quatrains (abba abba) form the first madrigal, and the remaining two tercets (aba bab) are used for the second.

This edition is scrupulous in presenting the texts in modern spelling, adding punctuation and necessary letters in brackets or in italics (the latter for vowels truncated by an apostrophe before a different vowel). Where the elimination of an apostrophe does not affect the pronunciation, the truncated words are spelled out in full, observing the metrics, to make the text comprehensible. Other corrections which Italian academic conventions require (correcting misprints, wrong accents, abbreviations, “j” for “i”, and removing the obsolete etymological “h”) make this edition not only much easier for Italian and non-Italian speakers to use, but is exemplary for the correct division of syllables in the underlay.

Singers will notice that the present score (SATB in G and F clefs) was originally in parts for Canto (G2), MS (C2), A (C3), Baritone (F3). The vocal ranges are never extreme, and there is virtually no chromaticism, despite de Macque’s close connection to Gesualdo. The occasional original ligatures are indicated by brackets above the separated notes. After 432 years this beautiful music, originally only in part books, has the well-edited score it deserves. Titles of the madrigals are as follows:

I. Là ver’ l’aurora, che sì dolce l’aura (1st part)
II. Temprar potess’io in sì soavi note (2nd part)
III. Quante lagrime, lasso, quanti versi (3rd part)
IV. Uomini e dei solea vincer per forza (4th part)
V. A l’ultimo bisogno, o misera alma (5th part)
VI. Ridon or per le piagge erbette e fiori (6th part)

VII. Quando sorge l’aurora
VIII. Nel morir si diparte
IX. Quel dolce nodo che mi strinse il core
X. Donna, quando volgete
XI. Crudel, se m’uccidete

XII. I’ piansi, or canto, ché ’l celeste lume (1st part)
XIII. Sì profondo era e di sì larga vena (2nd part)

XIV. O fammi, Amor, gioire

XV. Del mar Tirreno a la sinistra riva (1st part)
XVI. Solo ov’io era tra boschetti e colli (2nd part)

XVII. Non veggio, ohimè, quei leggiadretti lumi
XVIII. Al sol le chiome avea
XIX. Donna, se per amarvi
XX. O d’Amor opre rare
XXI. Chi prima il cor mi tolse

Barbara Sachs

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Categories
Recording

Porpora: L’amato nome

Cantatas Opus 1
Stile Galante, Stefano Aresi
148:48 (2 CDs in a card triptych)
Glossa GCD 923513

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]t the end of a note on performance practice, Stefano Aresi warns that we should not attempt to listen to all twelve of the chamber cantatas that comprise Nicola Porpora’s op. 1 in one go. ‘Rather’, he winningly continues, ‘to enjoy the precious colours and flavours of this music, a slow approach, as to the appreciation of twelve glasses of different fine wines, is recommended. These works give of their best taken one by one, with plenty of time between for discussion, reading, and appreciating the joys of life’. And he is of course quite right, though sadly I doubt many people listen to their CDs in that way. One might also add that such is the diversity of form and style, and, on this recording the use of four different singers, that it is perfectly possible to listen without musical inebriation to all the cantatas in succession, as I did on one of the occasions I listened to them.

The cantatas were published in 1735, a period when Porpora was working in London at the invitation of Handel’s rivals, the Opera of the Nobility. They bear a dedication to Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales and the leading supporter of the Nobility. Work on them possibly started before Porpora arrived in England, but the set was almost certainly largely composed in London, several cello obbligato cello parts suggesting due attention to Prince Frederick’s interest in that instrument. Six of the cantatas are for soprano, six for alto, which originally almost certainly meant male castrati, and all have texts on Arcadian topics by Metastasio. Following publication they became immensely popular, achieving a fame that highly unusually endured well into the following century, as is testified by a pupil of Porpora’s, who wrote of them that, ‘even nowadays, after 70 or more years […] they are still sung and admired, and learned masters give them to their pupils to study’. A new edition was published in Paris as late as 1820.

Such rare success is not hard to understand. The settings are notable for the gracious melodic fluency that has become increasingly familiar the more we come to know the composer’s operas. There is no formulaic approach, each text bearing evidence of having been carefully considered in the light of its particular poetic qualities. Recitatives, sometimes, as in the highly expressive narrative that lies at the heart of Cantata VII, are not infrequently lengthy. While adhering to the standard alternation of aria and recitative, the changes are constantly rung, opening now with an aria, now with recitative, while cantata VIII starts by reverting to earlier practice by enclosing recitative between a seamless opening and closing arioso. Cantata XII, the most seriously dramatic of the set, includes a striking passage in the style of accompanied recitative. Porpora even varies the style of accompaniment, the marvellous Cantata IX having an obbligato keyboard part rather than continuo.

Although superficially the texts speak of an idealised Arcadian world of nymphs and shepherds, we smile indulgently on them at the risk of self-mockery. A more thoughtful reading reveals that Metastasio is putting into words emotions that speak of a timeless truth: the suspicion of infidelity incorporated in the overwhelming longing for the absent loved one (Cantata III), a light-hearted but nonetheless sincere apology for being unable to return love (Cantata X), and so forth. It is a measure of the success of the performances that we are constantly drawn into the beauty of the texts as well as that of the music, an achievement almost certainly made possible not only by the use of Italian singers, Francesca Cassinari and Emanuela Galli (sopranos), and Giuseppina Bridelli and Marina De Liso (altos), but the involvement of two(!) language coaches. The technique of all four singers is excellent, displaying a firm command of the demands made by the sometimes florid writing and attempting trills with varying degrees of success (Cassinari is particularly good). But above all it is the intelligent musical approach to these splendid cantatas as refined and sophisticated chamber works rather than some kind of mini-opera that makes these performances such unalloyed pleasure throughout. The singers are given excellent support by cellist Agnieszka Oszańka and Andrea Friggi (harpsichord), and I was grateful to note that Aresi’s notes dismiss any other possibility (such as the inclusion of theorbo) as alien to the aesthetic of the music. My only slight criticism of this near-unfailingly rewarding set is the sense that one or two of the slower arias might have been given more forward momentum.

Brian Robins

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