Featuring five of The Sixteen's most celebrated recordings, The Italian Collection is a sumptuous anthology of music. From Allegri's hauntingly beautiful Miserere to the virtuosity, vibrant colour and dynamic energy of Handel's Dixit Dominus, this collection spans three centuries of glorious Italian choral music.
Little-know treasures such as Anerio's glorious 12-part setting of the Stabat Mater sit side by side with Palestrina's Assumpta Est Maria and Lotti's Crucifixus. 14 different composers are represented here and they worked for some of the most splendid musical establishments Italy had to offer including St Mark’s in Venice and the Sistine Chapel in Rome.
Reviews of some of the original recordings that make up this set:
The music and performances are outstanding, the sound is vibrant, and we're treated to first-rate interpretations of rarely heard repertoire.
Scarlatti's Stabat mater has received several decent recordings--nearly all of which appear on programs with works by other composers--but the rest of this all-Scarlatti disc fills gaps in the catalog that are important more than just for musicological reasons. The Te Deum, the Missa Breve "La Stella", and the lovely hymn setting Iste Confessor are significant works that extend the common view of this composer from essentially a keyboard master to a more detailed and rounded picture that includes a serious facility for choral writing. The Sixteen is in top form--just listen to the last minute or so of the Te Deum--and Scarlatti often surprises with an unusually clever fugal idea or flashy harmonic sequence (again, the ending of the Te Deum).
– David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
The Sistine Chapel has long been celebrated for its exquisite wall frescoes and Michelangelo’s ceiling but the Chapel choir also inspired some iconic pieces of Renaissance polyphony, including Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli and Allegri’s Miserere. Yet countless manuscripts by more arcane Papal composers have, for centuries, been gathering dust or falling into decay in the Vatican archives. Thankfully, this recording gives new life to several such rarities: Allegri’s richly beautiful Mass ‘Che fa oggi il mio sole’, some obscure but nonetheless glorious motets by Palestrina, and a series of radiant Marian antiphons by Palestrina’s successor as Papal composer, Felice Anerio. Director Harry Christophers draws controlled performances which highlight the music’s extremes of spiritual serenity and visceral energy. As one might expect from this crack choir, there is some seraphic singing and standards of intonation and ensemble are impeccable. The resonant recording suggests the lofty heights of the Cappella Sistina but the perspective is close enough to ensure the all-important words cut through. It’s a treat to hear such long-neglected treasures, many of them recorded here for the first time.
– Kate Bolton, BBC Music Magazine
Suitably enough, The Sixteen opens with a motet that uses everyone, one voice to a part. Caldara, who died in 1736, represents the end of a musical progression here, and placing his additional piece at the end of the disc serves to close the circle. In between are a group of composers that, as Moody said in his original notes, blur the distinction between Renaissance and Baroque. Their works are not arranged in chronological order, perhaps to make the point. Lassus has less connection with Venice than the others, but he visited the city more than once and modeled his three eight-voice masses on Andrea Gabrieli’s double-choral style. This Mass was supposedly based on a madrigal, now lost, that proclaimed Venice “another Amphitrite,” after the wife of Poseidon and goddess of the sea. This was already the fifth recording, and there are now twice as many, but this must be the best one of all. My usual preference for the Westminster Cathedral choir is diminished here because theirs is one of the few that employs instruments, but if that is your choice, go for it.
In its revised format, this ranks with the best recordings this group has given us... a marvelous program.
FANFARE: J. F. Weber
In the notes to this recording, Harry Christophers says that he likes to perform relatively unknown works with well-known ones. Steffani’s
has been relatively neglected by the recording companies, with only one previous recording, to my knowledge. Handel’s
, perhaps the most accomplished of his Latin church music written in Italy, has been much recorded, with 16 recordings listed at ArkivMusic (not counting duplicates).
was Steffani’s last composition, written between April 1727 and January 1728, several months before his death. It is written in a mixture of older and modern styles and employs six voices, six string instruments, and organ (to which Christophers adds the
sine qua non
of current Baroque recordings, the theorbo). The soloists are all members of the vocal component of The Sixteen (which numbers 18 singers). All are accomplished singers with attractive voices. The bass, Rob Macdonald, is required to descend to the depths of his range and does so with apparent ease. The orchestral component of The Sixteen (numbering 21) is well known from its many recordings, and its playing here is equally up to its usual high standards. Christophers sets reasonable tempos. The only recorded competition comes from Gustav Leonhardt on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi. Christophers is faster than Leonhardt in all movements, for a total time of 27:36 versus 30:55 for Leonhardt, but does not sound rushed. Christophers’ soloists need yield nothing to those of Leonhardt, some of whom, such as John Elwes, Mark Padmore, and Harry van der Kamp, are much better known. Those seeking a recording of this work should be happy with either recording. The Leonhardt is paired with Biber’s
Requiem à 15
. Choice will probably be determined by the accompanying work.
also receives a very good recording. Once again, soloists and orchestra distinguish themselves and are at least the equal of those on the recordings with which I am acquainted. There are times when I feel that Christophers rushes things a bit. Several sections, such as the opening “Dixit Dominus” and “Iudicabit in nationibus,” could benefit from a slightly slower tempo. However, this tendency to faster tempos is also a feature of the other recordings in my collection. I compared Christophers with John Eliot Gardiner’s two recordings (on Erato, paired with the Coronation Anthem “Zadok the Priest”) and on Philips (paired with the Handel
and the most well-known Vivaldi
) and with Parrott on Virgin as part of the so-called Carmelite Vespers. With the exception of one or two of Gardiner’s Philips soloists, all three recordings give an excellent account; once again, choice will probably come down to the recording’s discmates.
Anyone looking for a recording of these two works will be well served by this disc.
FANFARE: Ron Salemi