Released 6th May 2014
Princely Splendour Track Listing
1. Exsurge Domine Alessandro Scarlatti
2. Christus factus est Giovanni Battista Costanzi
3. Felix namque Giuseppe Ottavio Pitoni
4. Cum jucunditate Tommasso Bai
5. Ad Dominum cum tribularer Alessandro Scarlatti
6. O sacrum convivium Giovanni Giorgi
7. Improperium exspectavit Giovanni Battista Casali
8. Improperium exspectavit Giovanni Giorgi
9. Ex altari tuo Giovanni Ottavio Pitoni
10. Dixit Dominus Giovanni Battista Costanzi
11. Requiem aeternam Giuseppi Ottavio Pitoni
12. Dies Irae Pitoni
13. Tuba mirum Pitoni
14. Kyrie eleison Sebastiono Bolis
15. Christe eleison Bolis
16. Kyrie eleison Bolis
The best known music of the great churches of Rome is inevitably that of the time of Palestrina. He wrote over one hundred masses as well as much other sacred music during the time that he was employed at various churches there. Such was his reputation that after his death his style was copied by his successors and came to be expected of them.
Much of the music on this disc is in this style and is therefore usually thought, insofar as it is known, accordingly to lack originality and musical vitality. It is certainly true that in the first half of the disc there is little that could not have been written much earlier. In itself that should not necessarily imply a lack of musical interest. In the event there is a surprising variety of character here as well as much interesting and enjoyable music.
Alessandro Scarlatti is probably the best known composer to be represented here. It was a wise choice to start with “Exsurge Domine”, whose bold and joyful polyphonic opening is followed by an impressive homophonic conclusion. Pitoni is a name occasionally encountered in British Cathedral music lists and his two short unaccompanied motets are both worth hearing. Even more so are the three extracts from his Requiem of 1735 for choir and organ. The opening “Requiem” is impressive but the “Dies irae” is most unexpected. It is a duet for two sopranos and if the words were indistinct you might think of it instead as a setting of part of The Song of Solomon. Peter Leech in his very full and interesting notes suggests that they might represent angelic heralds but the music does not seem to me to convey that impression. It is nonetheless a delightful movement.
The items by Bai and Casali are good examples of the use of the Palestrina style, as is the short motet by Costanzi. The latter’s setting of “Dixit Dominus” is however a very different matter. It is for double choir and organ, and is a varied and simply glorious piece which is probably the highlight of the disc. The three sections of the “Kyrie” of 1778 by Sebastiano Bolis also suggest a composer worth exploring further. The first might well suggest the title of the disc, the middle, a trio for two sopranos and bass, is in a style more typical of its period, and the last is an inventive fugue.
Harmonia Sacra is a group of singers who come together for occasional intensive weekends of singing. They sound fresh here and apparently the size of choir is approximately the same as that used in the Sistine Chapel in 1770, albeit that women’s voices are used here. The recording gives the clear impression of a church acoustic without becoming too muddy.
Peter Leech has previously recorded a fascinating disc with the Aylesbury Choral Society of Georgian church music by such unfashionable composers as Samuel Wesley, Attwood and Linley — available through the Society’s website. Both discs suggest that he relishes the opportunity to demolish preconceived ideas. The present disc certainly provides much material for thought and enjoyment. Its only fault is a somewhat short playing time but when the quality and interest is so high this is easily forgiven.
Planet Hugill - Star rating: 4.0
A fascinating survey of sacred music from 18th century Rome, much of it with Royal connections
This disc from Peter Leech and Harmonia Sacra on Nimbus Alliance presents a selection of sacred choral works from an era which is still relatively neglected,18th century Rome. The music on this disc was all written for Rome, and that means that it can be seen as stylistically conservative. All the composers on this disc wrote sacred music in the expected stile antico emulating Palestrina, whose music was still a strong influence in Rome. But there is still much to enjoy, especially as Peter Leech has selected a variety of works which have surprising Royal connections, to the exiled House of Stuart. The composers on the disc include Alessandro Scarlatti, Giovanni Battista Costanzi, Guiseppe Ottavio Pitoni, Tommaso Bai, Giovanni Giorgi, Giovanni Battista Casali and Sebastiano Bolis. Apart from Scarlatti, none of them names well known now but whose work is certainly worth exploring.
The disc opens with Exsurge Domine by Alessandro Scarlatti (1660 - 1725), who became senior maestro at Santa Maria Maggiore in 1707 A date which probably reflects the group of unaccompanied masses and motets that Scarlatti wrote at this time. Exsurge Domine is a lively piece with a slower chromatic second park and displays the choir's bright forward tone and clean lines. Scarlatti's Ad Dominum cum tribularerappears later on the disc.
The remaining composers on the disc are rather lesser known. Giovanni Battista Costanzi (1704 - 1778) seems to have worked his entire life in Rome, Costanzi was responsible for giving music lessons to Prince Henry Benedict Stuart and his brother, Prince Charles (the young pretender) sons of Prince James Frances Edward Stuart (the old pretender) and Princess Maria Clementina Sobieska as the exiled Jacobite court was based in Rome. In 1719, on their marriage Prince James and his wife had been invited to Rome where the Pope recognised him as King of England.When Prince Henry was ordained, eventually becoming Cardinal York, he appointed Costanzi as maestro di cappella of the Cappella Giulia in the Vatican. Leech in his article in the CD booklet quotes Charles Burney's description of Vespers at St. Peter's in 1770, when Cardinal York officiated and Costanzi directed the music. Costanzi's setting of the Vespers psalm Dixit Dominus is for double choir and organ and is a substantial, attractive and exuberant work which owes rather less to the stile antico. Though Costanzi'sChristus factues est (from the Holy Week liturgy) is very much in this style and may date from Costanzi's period directing the Capella Giulia.
Prince Henry Benedict's mother, Princess Maria Clementina Sobieska died in 1735 at the Convent of Santa Cecilia in Trastavere. The music for her funeral was composed by Giuseppe Ottavio Pittoni (1657 - 1743). Leech and Harmonia Sacra perform three movements from the Requiem. Accompanied by organ, this is a work which also seems to blend stile antico moments with more modern idioms. There is an attractive Requiem Aeternam, a Dies Irae sung by two intertwining solo sopranos whose vocal lines are very much on the archaic side, and a rather interestingly dark Tuba Mirum. The disc also includes a selection of Pitoni's motets, Felix namque and Ex altri tuo, elegant expressive works where the influence of Palestrina can be felt.The composer Sebastiano Bolis (1750 - 1804) is perhaps even less well known than Pitoni. In 1778 he took over one of Costanzi's appointments, thanks to patronage by Cardinal York. His Kyrie for double choir concludes the disc and is a substantial big-boned work and certainly deserves rather wider exposure.
The remaining items on the disc are all interesting, but their composers have less historical links to the Jacobites and hence must be considered for their music alone. We have a wide selection,Cum jucunditate by Tommaso Bai (1650 - 1714) who worked in the Capella Giulia as a singer and as maestro di capella; O Sacrum Convivium andImproperium expectavit by Giovanni Giorgi (1700 - 1762) who succeeded Pitoni at San Giovanni in Laterano in 1719, and Improperium expectavit byGiovanni Battista Casali (1715 - 1792) also worked at San Giovanni in Laterano.
Here, I have to confess that the music on the disc seemed to be fascinating and interesting, but it is a disc that rather needs dipping into. I found that after a few tracks, the variants on stile antico though charming and imaginative rather felt a little too the same.
The performances are of a very high order. Leech and his choir are persuasive advocates and, whilst I would not listen to this disc every day, I welcome the window onto the world of 18th century Italian sacred music in Rome
Robert Hugill, August 2014