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Pro Defunctis - Liturgy For The Death Of The Baroque Area

Release Date: 09/25/2001 
Label:  Passacaille   Catalog #: 933   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Alphonse D'EvePietro Torri
Conductor:  Paul Dombrecht
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Il FondamentoLa Sfere del Canto
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

This disc is rather incongruously subtitled "Liturgy for the death of the baroque area [sic]" and the link between these two totally unknown composers is the St. Gudala Collection, so-called because it was originally owned by the collegiate church of St. Gudala in Brussels, now St. Michael's Cathedral. In 1929 the collection of some 500 sacred works was purchased by the Conservatoire Royale in Brussels, where it is presently housed. Much of the repertoire included is rare or even unique, but if the quality of the two works recorded here is anything to go by, the collection must be something of a treasure house.

The senior composer here is Pietro Torri, who was born in Pescheria on the shores of Lake Garda around
Read more 1650. He spent much of his career north of the Alps, initially as organist and maestro di cappella to the Margrave of Bayreuth. Later he entered the service of the Elector of Bavaria, Maximillian II Emanuel, as an organist, twice visiting Brussels with Maximillian—on the second occasion joining his master in exile there as a result of the War of Spanish Succession. On the Elector's return to Munich in 1715, Torri was appointed Hoflcapell-Direktor and granted a substantial salary. From then until his death in July 1737, he was engaged in producing operas for the Munich court at the rate of roughly one a year. In his day, Torri was particularly renowned for his chamber duets, the English historian Sir John Hawkins claiming that he was a disciple of Steffani. Hawkins goes on to claim that "the fame of his excellence was renowned throughout Flanders," and also recounts a nice anecdote that, if true, substantiates such status. Learning during the war that Torri's house was in some danger, the Duke of Marlborough is said, according to Hawkins, to have given "particular orders that it should be protected from violence."

The Missa pro defunctis (Requiem) was composed on the death of Elector Maximillian in 1726, an employer Torri had followed through both bad and good times. It is scored in five vocal parts (SSATB) with an accompaniment for strings and two obbligato oboes, supplemented in Tuba mirum (Dies Irae) by appropriate trumpet fanfares. The setting is remarkable for the flexibility and diversity of texture achieved by Torri, a technique the composer possibly assimilated from the grands motets of Lully he heard during his years in Brussels. However, the style is totally Italian, ranging from impressively broad polyphonic choruses displaying a thorough mastery of counterpoint contrasted with homophonic choral writing spiced with arrestingly affective harmonies, to solos and solo ensembles. The latter are also widely varied, and include imitative duets, trios, and madrigalian writing for all five soloists (Ingemisco, and the Sanctus). While Torri does not evade moments of drama (Dies Irae), this is not a Requiem of mourning or dread, but one of consolation, at times even a kind of contemplative happiness. Many passages, like the lovely setting of Liber Scriptus, are embellished by the oboes. It's a real discovery, accorded an exceptional performance by the experienced Paul Dombrecht and his highly accomplished forces.

Equally impressive is the motet by Alphonse D'Eve, the son of a singer and composer, who was bom in Brussels in 1666. By 1715, when he was appointed Kapellmeister to the Church of Our Lady in Antwerp, D'Eve was already a successful composer who is credited with raising standards in Antwerp. He held the position until 1725, when he retired to be replaced by Willem de Fesch. There appears to be little further biographical detail (I'm indebted to passacaille's notes for the foregoing), and much of his music is known to have been lost. I would hazard a strong guess that somewhere along the way D'Eve came into contact with Venetian music. Highly dramatic, the penitential motet 0 acerbi contains passages that for rhythmic verve and propulsive forward movement instantly recall the sacred music of Vivaldi. Yet D'Eve was certainly no slavish imitator, as the highly original opening, a long sustained unison in the violins answered by somber orchestral basses, instantly proves. No less startling is the opening chorus, the angry words articulated in fiercely rhetorical fashion. The accompanied bass recitative that follows (superbly sung by Dirk Snellings) provides one of the few suggestions that D'Eve might also have been more understandably influenced by the French style, but the driving dynamism of the succeeding chorus quickly sweeps such notions before it. A duet for tenor and alto with obbligato parts for recorders introduces a supplicatory mood, which is largely maintained in the final jubilant chorus. As with the Torelli Requiem, O acerbi introduces a composer of real worth. The loss of so much of his music is highly regrettable.

Once again, the performance is of the highest caliber, as is the engineering, which has achieved a vivid, spacious sound in the surroundings of the Begijnhoikerk at Lier, Belgium. No translations of the Latin texts are provided, not important for the Requiem, but a definite loss in the instance of the motet, particularly since I've been unable to identify the source of the text. The cover illustration, which incorporates that silly subtitle, seems designed to deter prospective buyers. Don't let it. There's some extraordinarily rewarding music awaiting discovery here.

-- Brian Robins, Fanfare [1/2002]
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Works on This Recording

O Acerbi (Motetus pro defunctis) by Alphonse D'Eve
Conductor:  Paul Dombrecht
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Il Fondamento,  La Sfere del Canto
Date of Recording: 2000 
Missa pro defunctis by Pietro Torri
Conductor:  Paul Dombrecht
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Il Fondamento,  La Sfere del Canto
Date of Recording: 2000 

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