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SALVE REGINA Sacred music by Monteverdi and his contemporaries
Giovanni ROVETTA Salve Regina; Alessandro GRANDI Amo Christum, Ave maris Stella; Biagio MARINI Sonata 'per sonar con due corde'; Francesco MARINI Jesu dulcis memoria; Dario CASTELLA Exultate deo; Claudio MONTEVERDI Iam moriar mi filli (Pianto della Madonna) Giovanni RIGATTI Cum invocarium; Nunc Dimittis; Giovanni LEGRENZI Sonata in G major 'La Pezzoli'; O mirandum mysterium; Johann ROSENMULLER Ascendit Christus in altum
Robin Blaze (counter-tenor)/The Parley of Instruments/Peter Holman
Recorded at St. Jude's on the Hill London, June 2000
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This is the latest CD recorded by Peter Holman and the Parley of Instruments who are regular recording artists with Hyperion. The six instrumentalists play two renaissance violins, two renaissance violas, a bass violin, a therbo and Holman himself plays organ continuo. It is important to know likewise that the pitch chosen here is the fairly usual at present, A=440Hz - the pitch which they have used for each of their CDs.

This repertoire has a somewhat rarefied and unique atmosphere. It is a survey of the rich and still little known music for solo male alto with strings. Venetian churches were, in common with other centres "using castrati and falsettists rather than boys to sing the upper parts in church music, and so there is a wealth of material from the period suitable for modern countertenors". (Peter Holman in the excellent CD booklet).

It seems that it was Alessandro Grandi (died 1630), who, at St.Mark's Venice with Monteverdi, was the first to established this new style of sacred concerto. I was particularly drawn to Grandi's Ave Maris Stella with its ingenious dance-like variation of the well-known melody (used by Monteverdi himself in the 1610 Vespers).

Dario Castella is known only for his instrumental sonatas and this setting of the Exultate is his only surviving vocal composition, published, like this entire repertoire in Venice. This lovely piece was published in 1625 and therefore has the earliest publication date of any on this CD. The last piece was published as late as 1692 - Legrenzi 'O mirandum'. Curiously it is not easy to detect much of a change of style throughout the almost 70 years represented. One characteristic however which is not surprising when one considers the development of instrumental music in general in the 17th Century, is the gradual move towards the greater importance of the strings and continuo. In the Castello they are mainly responsible for accompanying the voice, with just simple two bar phrases dividing up the occasional sentence. By the time we reach Rosenmuller's Ascension tide motet (unpublished, but dating from the 1670s) we find the instruments not only opening the piece with a bright, cheerful prelude but also making regular appearances throughout the work, sometimes closing lines cadentially, sometimes echoing the voice, sometimes adding strong down-beat chords to emphasis the joyous rhythm. The organ continuo is left alone to accompany the voice on other occasions, as in the section beginning 'Aeterne Rex'. There are also two attractive instrumental works on this disc which demonstrate what composers could achieve at this time without the text to concern them. Legrenzi's Sonata is particularly fine.

The two central works on the disc are Monteverdi's 'Iam Moria' and Rigatti's 'Cum invocarem' (published 1646) both are well over 10 mins long. I had forgotten what a good composer Rigatti is. I first came across him on a disc of 'Venetian Vespers' recorded by Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort in 1990 (Archiv 437552-22). He was Monteverdi's successor at St. Mark's, and there is a wonderful section at about three minutes in, which seems to be built on the same falling bass as Monteverdi's famous Lamento della Ninfa from book 8 of the Madrigals, possibly written only 10 years before.

Speaking of Monteverdi brings us to the extraordinary Iam moriar which is prefaced by an innocent instrumental prelude and then proceeds to a transcription, or more technically a contrafactum, of the master's famous 'Lamento d'Arianna' from the otherwise lost opera 'Arianna'. This Lament opens the Sixth book of madrigals of 1614. With its sacred text it was published in 1641 with Monteverdi's 'Selva morale'. It is not clear who made the adaptation. The curious text is a Lament of Mary at the foot of the cross and is a mixture of Latin and Italian. Its operatic type accompaniment is almost entirely on theorbo, with strings acting as a ritornello between verses. This idea seems to have been Holman's but it works and seems to me perfectly in keeping, even dare I say, authentic, although the original ritornellos do not survive. The ones used are from 'Il ritorna d'Ulisse' of 1641. This work is very demanding for Robin Blaze with often a high tessitura and passionate delivery needed, which he carries off superbly. Generally his voice is ideal, sometimes I feel that he is a little too chaste and more characteristic of a cathedral lay-clerk as in Rigatti's 'Nunc Dimittis' but these complaints are almost churlish and I would recommend this disc to anyone with a love for baroque vocal music.

Gary Higginson

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