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Alma redemptoris mater
Congratulamini filiae Syon
Hodie collaetantur coeli
Missa quinque vocibus (Missa Lauretana)
Sonata La Querini
Sonata La Spilimberga

Lia Serafini, Roberta Giua, soprano
Oficina Musicum
Dir: Riccardo Favero

Dynamic CDS 710


Giovanni Legrenzi was one of the most important composers in Italy in the second half of the 17th century. He played a crucial role in the development of instrumental music and is the link between the canzonas by composers of the 17th century and the sonatas which were written in the 18th. Riccardo Favero seems to have a special interest in his vocal music. He not only recorded the music on this disc, but also Legrenzi's oratorio Il Sedecia. That is the only of Legrenzi's extant oratorios which was not available on disc yet. His liturgical music has been largely neglected, though, and that makes this disc a valuable addition to the catalogue.

Legrenzi came from a relatively humble background: he was born in the village of Clusone, near Bergamo, where his father was violinist at the parish church. His first post was that of organist at S Maria Maggiore in Bergamo where he restored the city to its former glory as music centre, which had fallen apart after the death of Alessandro Grandi during the plague of 1630. He left Bergamo in 1655 and became maestro di cappella in Ferrara the next year. By 1670 Legrenzi was living in Venice, where he worked at several ospedali. In 1681 he was appointed vicemaestro di cappella at St Mark's, and in 1685 he became maestro di cappella. During Legrenzi's years at San Marco the choir and the instrumental ensemble attained their largest recorded size.

Whether that should be decisive in the line-up for a recording of the Missa quinque vocibus, also known as Missa Lauretana, is questionable. It is scored for five voices a cappella, and written in the stile antico, albeit with influences of the modern style of his time. In this recording the choir is supported by an organ and a theorbo. "The parts are placed as in a Choirbook: Cantus and Tenor on the left page, Altus and Bassus on the right page, and Quintus (or second Tenor) in the middle, across the two pages", Francesco Passadore writes in his liner-notes. This casts some doubt at a performance with more than one voice per part. One wonders how more than five singers - or possibly twice as many - could have read the score.

The mass dates from 1689, and is kept in the archive of the Holy House Shrine in Loreto. The mass was dedicated to the Virgin of Loreto which has lent the work its nickname. The style is called "archaic" by Passadore, because of the texture of the mass. It is entirely in binary time, with the exception of "Et resurrexit" which is in ternary time. In the 'Crucifixus' the number of voices is reduced to three. Legrenzi also makes use of the canon technique which was a typical device of the Franco-Flemish school. In this recording the Ordinarium missae is extended by an introitus (Terribilis est locus iste), a gradual (Unam petii), an alleluia (Beati qui habitant), an offertory (Domine Deus) and a communion (Domus mea). These are sung in plainchant by Letizia Butterin. I find it rather odd that these chants are sung by a solo voice, whereas the mass is sung by 19 voices.

The mass is preceded and followed by two of Legrenzi's sonatas for two violins and bc. In the second part of this disc we hear other pieces by Legrenzi in a more modern concertante style, separated by organ improvisations played by Riccardo Favero. I can't quite understand the reasoning of such improvisations; they are nicely played, but I would have preferred more sonatas by Legrenzi, especially if they are played as well as here. There was enough space on this disc after all. The sacred concertos are well sung, although I would have liked more dynamic shading from the sopranos.

Although I have my doubts about the plausibility of the number of singers in this particular mass there is nothing wrong with the singing of the choir. It produces a beautiful tone; the transparency is pretty good and so is the balance between the various voice groups.

This disc not only increases our knowledge of Legrenzi's qualities as a composer, it is also a disc to enjoy for purely musical reasons. More recordings of Legrenzi's liturgical music would be most welcome.

Johan van Veen, 25 February 2013

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