Notes and Editorial Reviews
Psalmi ad Vesperas
Robert Simpson, cond; Melissa Givens (sop); Kelli Shircliffe (sop); Ryland Angel (ct); Eduardo Tercero (ten); Matthew Treviño (bs); Houston C Ch & O
MSR 1437 (73:27
Text and Translation)
The name Giovanni Paolo Colonna (1637-1695) ought to be well known but isn’t. Born in Bologna, he traveled to Rome to complete his musical education under Giacomo Carissimi before returning to his native town to become the maestro di cappella at the Church
of San Petronio in 1674. He also served the musical establishments at other churches in the city and was one of the founding members of the Accademia Filarmonica, membership in which became a
sine qua non
for composers well into the 18th century. In his capacity as musical director, he was responsible for expanding the cappella to include a substantial chorus and instrumental ensemble, not to mention being a significant figure in the transition from the rather strict
of the Renaissance counterpoint to a more homophonic and lyrical baroque church style. If that were not enough, he also built organs and thus was accounted as a craftsman.
The world of Bolognese church music, even that of the famed Padre Martini of the next century, is often discussed but relatively few of the vast amount of works have been available on disc. Many of those that are have been the result of Tactus using various Italian ensembles to offer some rarities like the oratorio
Il transito di San Gioseppe
in 2006 and a disc from 1997 with the Ars Music, which included several sacred works, including the
also recorded here. Countertenor Philippe Jaroussky also dabbled a bit in Colonna’s works, recording a motet on Virgin Classics. Here, the Houston Chamber Choir, using what seems to be their in-house ensemble, has chosen all but three of the Psalms and Vespers that were published as a set in 1694 and attracted the attention of no less than the Holy Roman court in Vienna. (The reason for the omission of the
Laudate pueri, Laetatus sum
was probably a matter of space, for the disc is long at 78 minutes; hopefully these were recorded for later release.) The works presented here, however, are clear indications of how modern a composer Colonna was.
The walking bass of the continuo with lines that seem to march forward with a somewhat strict tempo, changing direction smoothly and effortlessly in terms of harmony (mostly diatonic) give these pieces a solid, almost urgent at times foundation. What happens above, however, determines the content, with ever-changing textures, now solo, now choral. For example, in the
the two sopranos are paired with a solo violin, each completing a nicely lyrical line, but when the bass enters, suddenly the line is ornamented and expanded so that when the chorus comes in, the counterpoint is a natural result. In the “De torrente” of the
, Colonna tumbles his vocal entrances, indicating a bubbling stream of melodic lines that reinforces the word-painting of the text. In the
, what seems to be a flowing soprano line above an equally active bass concludes with a sudden and very solemn homophonic choral interlude, the same sort of nicely suspensive harmony that opens the Magnificat, only here it devolves into a rather intricate fugue. Each of these Psalms includes numerous sectional divisions, wherein Colonna contrasts the soloists and chorus, sometimes the former are individual and sometimes, as in the
Domine ad adjuvandum
in parallel thirds. If one is looking for the style Antonio Vivaldi or Antonio Caldara embraced, its antecedents are to be found here.
As for the performance itself, conductor Robert Simpson has created an appropriate and tasteful sound world. The tempos are nicely contrasting between the sections, the continuo drives the motion forward, and the textures are all well defined. The choral singing of the Houston Chamber Chorus is right on pitch, with a full and expansive sound, adding considerable depth to the music. The soloists are all extremely capable, with sopranos Melissa Givens and Kelli Shircliffe floating with a clear and brilliant tone in their parts. Bass Matthew Treviño is nicely resonant, and his use of vibrato only heightens the gravitas of his lines. Countertenor Ryland Angel and tenor Eduardo Tercero also blend nicely, and one would wish that the composer would have made more use of them. As for the orchestra, it is difficult to know whether these are period instruments (of course the gambas, harp, and theorbo are) or modern ones performing with appropriate baroque performance practice. If the former, the quality is every bit as accurate as the many European ensembles, while if the latter, then they have achieved a rare goal of sounding 17th century. This is one recording that baroque music lovers will need to have in their collection.
FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
Works on This Recording
Psalmi ad Vesperas by Giovanni Paolo Colonna
Kelli [Soprano Vocal] Shircliffe (),
Ryland Angel (),
Matthew Treviño (),
Eduardo Tercero (),
Melissa Givens ()
Venue: The Church of St. John the Divine, Houst
Length: 77 Minutes 39 Secs.
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