Italy Around 1600—Sacred Edition

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Program: #16-48   Air Date: Nov 21, 2016

New sacred music recordings by the Marian Consort of works by Gesualdo, New York Polyphony performing Palestrina and Victoria, and some world-premiere recordings of music by Palestrina’s successor in Rome, Giovanni Mario Nanino.

I. Roma Aeterna (New York Polyphony). BIS CD BIS-2203.

Rome Æterna cover image

With their new album, Roma æterna, New York Polyphony constructs a program centered on two of the greatest composers of the Renaissance: Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and Tomás Luis de Victoria. The Missa Papae Marcelli of Palestrina, the album's centerpiece, is arguably one of the most celebrated works of the era. It is renowned as much for its technical brilliance as for the myth that it single-handedly rescued Western music from the ravages of papal censorship. For their performance, New York Polyphony is joined by Tim Keeler (countertenor), Andrew Fuchs (tenor) and Jonathan Woody (bass-baritone). The second half of the program continues with Victoria's lyric but comparatively austere Missa O quam gloriosum for four voices.

From I first came across New York Polyphony with their excellent EndBeginning album (review), and am by no means the only person to become an instant fan and eager to hear what these gents will do with further repertoire. Warmly welcomed by David Billinge, Brian Wilson in his last ever Download News page was however a little more circumspect, drawing on comparisons to conclude that the “perfectly polished” results wouldn’t be his ideal for this music. I can see or indeed hear his point, and if first impressions are to be relied upon then it might possibly be a lack of devotional passion in the performance of Palestrina’s exquisite Missa Papæ Marcelli, but is this really the case?

Developing this point, I am sure ‘passionate performance’ would have been the least desirable thing in terms of Church use, but over the span of the performance I found it a challenge to spot significant differences between the mass movements as a whole. Everything is very beautifully performed, but if this is compared with the contrasts and layers of textual implication communicated by, say, the Oxford Camerata directed by Jeremy Summerly on the Naxos label, then you will hear a more outspoken use of the Latin text in propelling the message of the music. This is not to say that the reinforced New York Polyphony voices are flat and uninvolving. Comparing the Gloria made me realise how much subtle inner detail there is in this performance, so if greater restraint and a more enigmatically ecclesiastical view suits your mood then this is a version in which you can become truly immersed. Perhaps it is this position, suspended somewhere between an idea of period Church authenticity and concert performance, that curbs maximum enthusiasm.

One way in which this programme certainly adds value is in the liberal addition of plainchant in the Palestrina and extra motets in De Victoria’s Missa O quam gloriosum, not to mention the framing of the masses with shorter pieces such as Palestrina’s six-part Tu es Petrus with its antiphonal play between the upper and lower voices. Spanish by birth, Tomás Luis de Victoria was a big success in Rome, spending two decades there after a period of study, and succeeding Palestrina as chapel master of the Roman Seminary. Victoria’s Mass is more lively than Palestrina’s, less searching in its harmonies but still creating a tapestry of irresistible richness.

I seem to recall making this point before, but in their single-voice performances New York Polyphony distinctly avoid any suspicion of thinness in their sound. With excellent matching of timbre and intense detail in terms of expressive delivery, these male voices are all moving in the same direction musically so that the choral sound is greater in effect than you would expect. As ever, the more you dig into the substance of each piece the more there is to appreciate. You can just put this on at the end of a long day and enjoy it with a streaming bath and a glass of port, but it always proves rewarding at every level – from its polished surface to the limpid reflections deep within.

Regina cæli for four voices (Guerrero) 2:30
Missa Papæ Marcelli for six voices (Palestrina) 35:01
Kyrie eleison 3:51
Gloria in excelsis Deo 5:11
Alleluia: Pascha nostrum (plainchant) 1:54
Credo in unum Deum 7:54
Offertorium: Terra tremuit (plainchant) 1:12
Sanctus 3:48
Benedictus 2:58
Agnus Dei I 3:07
Agnus Dei II 3:13
Communio: Pascha nostrum (plainchant) 1:26
Tu es Petrus for six voices (Palestrina) 3:06
Missa O quam gloriosum for four voices (Victoria) 25:06
Kyrie eleison 1:50
Gloria in excelsis Deo 3:44
Motet: Gaudent in cœlis (Victoria) 2:13
Credo in unum Deum 5:54
Motet: Gaudent in cœlis (Palestrina) 3:27
Sanctus 2:28
Benedictus 1:57
Agnus Dei 3:24
Sicut cervus/Sitivit anima mea for four voices (Palestrina) 5:39

II. Giovanni Maria Nanino: Music for Four, Five and Eight Voices (Gruppo Vocale Àrsi e Tèsi/Tony Corradini). Toccata Classics CD TOCC 0235.

Giobanni Maria Nanino: Music for Four, Five and Eight Voices

Giovanni Maria Nanino (1544–1607) was one of the major Italian composers of late-Renaissance polyphony. A successor of Palestrina as maestro di cappella at Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, Nanino produced a modest but expertly crafted body of sacred music, and his madrigals, too, enjoyed widespread popularity.

He also became the most influential teacher of composition in late-sixteenth-century Rome. Despite the prestige he enjoyed in his own day, his music has been almost entirely forgotten.

This recording – the first to be dedicated to his music – reveals it to have struck a remarkable balance between beauty, passion and dignity, between darkness and light. The material for the recording was prepared by the leading authority on Nanino’s music, Maurizio Pastori, and the scores he has edited will shortly be published by Toccata Press.

The Gruppo Vocale Àrsi & Tèsi devotes itself to the performance of sacred and secular polyphonic music, with a repertoire focused chiefly on the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. It performs with one singer per part, and occasionally includes some instrumentalists. The ensemble is conducted by Tony Corradini, who sings bass with the group.

Nanino, G M:

Mass for Eight Voices

Magnificat VII toni a 8

Erano i capei d’oro

Principes persecuti sunt after Erano i capei d’oro

Morir non puo `l mio core

Laetamini in Domino (after Morir non puo)

Dirige corda nostra (after Donne vaghe e leggiadre)

Magnificat VI toni

Haec dies

Exultate Deo

Lassus: Magnificat VII toni super Erano i capei d'oro

III. Gesualdo: Sacrae Cantiones (The Marian Consort/Rory McCleery). Delphian CDDCD34176.

Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa and Count of Conza, has become notorious for the eccentricities of both his life and his music. The gruesome murder of his first wife and her lover in flagrante, his mistreatment of his second wife, his isolation at his family seat and his penchant for masochism and flagellation have all fuelled the ‘myth’ of Gesualdo as madman, deviant and
tortured pariah, qualities seen to be replicated in his rule-defying music. Yet his work was admired by his contemporaries, one of them remarking that he was ‘inferior to no other composer,
having discovered new inventions of composition adorned with thought and caprice so that all musicians and singers of the world have been given to marvel’.

Marking Gesualdo's 450th birthday year, this idiomatic and committed reading by Rory McCleery and The Marian Consort of the composer’s five-voice motets invites us to marvel afresh – at their pictorial immediacy, their surprising chromaticism, their melodic word-painting and unique blend of melisma and homophony. Gesualdo turned his prodigious compositional talent to the creation of a collection of pieces that betray his obsession with his own personal sin, remorse and need for absolution. Today, they speak to us as strongly as ever.

1 Ave Regina caelorum [3:27]
2 Venit lumen tuum [2:46]
3 Ave dulcissima Maria [4:17]
4 Reminiscere miserationum tuarum [3:36]
5 Dignare me laudare te [2:19]
6 Sancti Spiritus, Domine [2:03]
7 Domine, ne despicias deprecationem meam [2:42]
8 Hei mihi, Domine [3:12]
9 Laboravi in gemitu meo [3:36]
10 Peccantem me quotidie [4:26]
11 O vos omnes [2:57]
12 Exaudi, Deus, deprecationem meam [3:01]
13 Precibus et meritis [2:36]
14 O Crux benedicta [3:10]
15 Tribularer si nescirem [3:18]
16 Deus, refugium et virtus [3:07]
17 Tribulationem et dolorem [3:40]
18 Illumina faciem tuam [3:10]
19 Maria mater gratiae [3:22]

Composer Info

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Tomás Luis de Victoria, Guerrero, Giovanni Maria Nanino (1544–1607), Carlo Gesualdo

CD Info

CD BIS-2203, CD TOCC 0235, CDDCD34176