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Claudio MERULO (1533-1604)
Organ-Alternatim Masses
Federico Del Sordo (organ)
In Dulci Jubilo
Nova Schola Gregoriana/Alberto Turco
rec. Cathedral of Verona, November 2014 and January 2015
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95145 [73.35 + 60.23]

Claudio Merulo is an interesting and significant Renaissance figure. In his lifetime, he was perhaps best known as a fine organist and an innovative composer. In 1557, having already been organist at the Old Cathedral of Brescia, he became organist at St. Mark’s Venice, where he remained until 1584. In 1587 he was appointed organist at Parma cathedral, where he is buried.

His organ works are innovative often contrasting sections of contrapuntal writing with passagework. There is something very vocal about his organ pieces – he was a close student of madrigals. Works published in his lifetime were principally organ pieces.

The masses on these discs are dominated by the organ. Short choral sections are interspersed with longer pieces for organ solo – this is no mere accompaniment. The schola sings largely in cantus firmus, that is, without polyphony. Think in terms of a modification of plainchant and you are close to the sound. This permits text to emerge clearly. An oddity is the use of tropes, for example in the Gloria of the Missa Virginis Mariae. This is an addition to the prescribed text of the liturgy and is historically interesting. The Council of Trent would forbid such additions, and Gregory XIII, in the revised Missal of 1577 upheld the ruling. That said, this mass seems to come from 1568, so we have an example here of practice at an important transitional point in liturgical history.

Performances here are interesting, with a certain stark beauty. The acoustic of Verona Cathedral gives some depth. The organ is rather closely recorded, but one is very aware of the mechanism – the sound has an authenticity. The performances by Federico Del Sordo are thoughtful with some lively playing. The two choral groups, The Nova Schola Gregoriana (eight male singers) and In Dulci Jubilo (eight female singers) sing separately, each with understanding and precision. A slight oddity is some difference in pronunciation. In the opening of the Kyrie of the Missa Apostolorum, the men sing the Kyrie Eleison as ‘el-ay-ee-son’, while the women in the Missa Virginis Mariae prefer ‘el-eye-ee-son’. In both cases, diction is clear throughout. Both groups have appropriate reverence for the meaning of the text.

There are other recordings of Merulo Masses, notably on Naxos (Naxos 8.553420-1 8.553335-6 and 8.553420-1), two two-disc sets, both with Spanish forces, and coupled with other works. The current recording does not lose in the comparison. There is no scholarly agreement about how to reconstruct these works, and it is valuable to hear alternative ways of reconstructing these scores. This recording provides a fine experience and, at Brilliant Classics prices, is well worth exploring.

Michael Wilkinson
Track listing

Missa Apostolorum
Kyrie [9.15]
Gloria [14.04]
Sanctus [4.32]
Agnus Dei [2.37]
Missa in Dominicis Diebus
Kyrie [7.39]
Gloria [11.52]
Credo in Dominicis diebus [15.40]
Sanctus [3.24]
Agnus Dei [2.51]
Ite, Missa est [1.17]
Missa Virginis Mariae
Kyrie [6.17]
Gloria [19.13]
Credo in Dominicis diebus [18.58]
Ricercar del quarto tuono [4.41]
Sanctus [3.54]
Agnus Dei [2.45]
Canzona La Scarampa [2.45]
Ite, Missa est [1.30]


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