5 MAY 2022

L’Harmonia d’affetti devoti by Giovanni Legrenzi:

a gem of seventeenth-century sacred music

 Disc of the month of May 2022 

After having recorded the Compiete op. 7 (about which we wrote on MusicVoice), Giovanni Acciai, the ensemble Nova Ars Cantandi and the organist Ivana Valotti continue their deserving undertaking of reviving works unfortunately forgotten and never recorded by Giovanni Legrenzi from Bergamo. Their latest recording effort, also world premiere, concerns the Harmonia d’affetti devoti, op. 3, again published by Naxos, a work printed in Venice in 1655, that is a year after the musician from Clusone was literally expelled (probably due to an accusation of gambling, an inadmissible fault for a clergyman) from his position as organist at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo.

Dedicated to the Duke of Parma Alessandro Farnese, the Harmonia d’affetti devoti represents a further step in the innovation of the so-called concertato style applied to seventeenth-century sacred music, which took hold in the middle of that century. His style recalls the one outlined by Claudio Monteverdi in the famous Selva morale e spirituale, collection, published fifteen years earlier, based on the revolutionary concept of the second practice, which enhanced the textual dimension of the voice and with music devoted to enhancing its emotional message.

It can therefore be argued, as Giovanni Acciai does in his erudite and in-depth accompanying notes to the record, that op. 3 by Legrenzi is the result of the thoughtful and careful study that the Clusone musician made of the Monteverdi stylus modernus. This, however, does not mean that this lesson was developed by Legrenzi in a slavish and imitative way, but inserted and developed through his own extraordinary inventiveness, based on an extraordinarily melodic approach, together with the harmonic and contrapuntal context of the musical matter. A music that, through the exaltation of the text, had to become highly expressive, capable of being persuasive not only in its aesthetic dimension, but also in the spiritual one.

The Harmonia d'affetti devoti was composed for a limited number of voices (four, although several of its fourteen pieces that compose it are foreseen for two or three voices, with the discreet accompaniment of the organ), which makes us understand its use which was thought above all to meet the needs of those ecclesiastical realities that could not boast a larger choral mass due to obvious problems of an economic nature.

But the poverty of the means offered did not mean an equal poverty in terms of expressiveness and beauty, since op. 3 is a miraculous casket in which pages and moments of the highest musical and expressive value are hidden, thanks to an ingenious stylistic balance given by a language in which timbral nuances, harmonic ideas and a shrewd use of the aforementioned concerted contrapuntal style find their place. parties, such as to give rise in those who listened to a movement of involvement and great and total emotion.

The texts chosen for the work, perhaps by Legrenzi himself, are entirely original and are not taken from the traditional liturgical repertoire of the Proprium, the Ordinarium Missae or the Officium divinum. These texts are not the result of a profound theological reflection, but tend to propose images and sensations devoted to a great expressive simplicity, in order to generate in the listener, even the most uncultivated one, a movement of amazement and wonder, since the primary purpose , precisely on the basis of what is enunciated by the second practice, aimed at this: to involve directly, without resorting to a useless harmonic and melodic pomp, but focusing on the essential beauty of a melody also through an accurate rhythmic structure capable of attracting , from the very first listening, the attention of the faithful. This essentiality, however, was not free, as happens in the madrigal repertoire of the early seventeenth century, of an apparatus full of metaphors and analogies (the same that can be grasped in the sacred and profane painting of the time), whose function was to increase the attention and involvement of the assembly of the faithful. Thus, melody and text go hand in hand, with the first helping, harmonically and rhythmically, to support and encourage the full understanding of the second. From here, a plethora of real "scenic representations" capable of projecting themselves into the imagination and soul of the listener, who is captivated, almost cathartically, in the exploration of different emotional states depending on the projection generated; so, just to give some examples, we go from the movement of contrition that springs from the second passage, Quam amarum est Maria, passing through human guilt and frailty (Cadite montes, n. 4), up to the concept of eternal damnation and of suffering that redeems (O santictissimum, n. 7).

From these few annotations, even without having listened to it yet, one can guess how the Harmonia d'affetti devoti is a work that, beyond its daily liturgical function, needs not only a pure and highly expressive singing ability among the voices of soprano, alto, tenor and bass, but also and above all of an undoubted ability to render the minimal and almost imperceptible psychological nuances that permeate these fourteen pieces.

And here the four voices of Nova Ars Cantandi intervene in an amazing way (remember them: Alessandro Carmignani, soprano; Andrea Arrivabene, alto; Gianluca Ferrarini, tenor; Marcello Vargetto, bass), which, under the precise and loving gesture of Giovanni Acciai, they manage to render these stylistic requirements with surprising and apparent simplicity. But be careful: to be rendered worthily, a work of this kind must not only pass through the expressive abilities of the voice, but must also generate a "theatrical" impression of the singing act itself (I know, I'm repeating myself, but when I listen to the recordings of this ensemble, I cannot help but highlight, repetita iuvant, what is unquestionably their artistic DNA, based precisely on this extraordinary ability to make what they interpreted "theatrical"); this means that his readings are incredibly "three-dimensional" in their expressive range, as the four voices are able to perfectly convey an interiority, an immanence of what must be rendered with the voice. And when this happens, the surrounding space (and this also thanks to the taking of the sound, see technical judgment) is invested by an exquisitely emotional saturation of the singing gesture, with the result that the simple, so to speak, song miraculously becomes theater, acquired spatiality, interior / exterior stage, with the one-dimensionality of the voice returned by the recorded contribution that magically radiates into an emotional, absolute three-dimensionality.

If the four voices fully restore the expressive rigor of the text, in their way of implementing it in an emotionally palpable theater, the contribution given by Ivana Valotti to the organ is like the reassuring maternal presence, a shadow that cares for the singing dimension, the it preserves and makes it grow, the discreet rhythmic path that provides the artistic and aesthetic oxygen so that the song itself can propagate in the proper interior space. Try, on a second listening, to exclude your attention from the voices and concentrate only on the sound line of the organ and you will understand the importance of this contribution, of this very sensitive caress which is like a welcoming nest without which much of the final construction it would inexorably lose its charm.

Finally, Giovanni Acciai. Beyond his priceless work as a musicologist, researcher and passionate scholar, capable of bringing to the surface wonderful pages and works (and this would already be enough to make him an intellectual to thank and admire), there is the side of the artist, of the interpreter. that governs the gesture, the hint, the direction to be given to the voices and the organ, the deus ex machina that regulates and indicates. It is a real shame not to be able to see his gesture, his ability to transform the signs into something alive, finally achievable in the physicality of the artistic act; we can, at most, imagine it. And this is already an element of comfort and further thanks. From all this, only one result follows, at least for what concerns us directly, namely that this recording cannot but be considered disc of the month of May 2022. And I've said it all.

A further step to the preciousness of this recording project is given by the work carried out for the taking of the sound (done by Jean-Marie Quint), which was made in the magnificent Palatine Basilica of Santa Barbara in Mantua, a magical place, and not only for the treasures that are kept there, but also for what it manages to do, in terms of spatiality and physicality, in the emission and propagation of sound, vocal or instrumental. The dynamics are extremely energetic, precise, pleasantly fast in transients; this allows us to capture every slightest inflection, every slightest nuance of the four voices and the organ, so that their return within the sound stage is nothing short of sculpted, with the four singers and the instrument positioned in the center of the speakers, at a fair depth, which is physically enhanced by a reverberation that is never artificial or incorrect, but capable of delineating the spatiality in which the performers find themselves. The tonal balance is not far behind, since the various registers are always perfectly contoured, so that the singing lines always remain distinct, even when the four voices and the organ are simultaneously present. Finally, the detail is pleasantly material, rich in black, with the impression, if you close your eyes, of imagining the physical presence of the Nova Ars Cantandi in your listening room.

                                                                                                                                                                ANDREA BEDETTI

Artistic judgment:  5/5

Technical rating: 4.5 / 5


December 15, 2021

GIOVANNI LEGRENZI: Harmonia d'affetti devoti, Op. 3

Around this time last year, we looked at Legrenzi's Compiete,  op. 7. One year later and the same forces offer Legrenzi's op. 3, his Harmonia d'affetti devoti (published 1655 in Venice by Alessandro Vincenti).
We should remind ourselves that Giovanni Legrenzi (1626-1690) was one of the most gifted and influential composers of his generation, playing a decisive role in the establishment of Baroque style in northern Italy in the latter half of the 17th century. A contemporary of Stradella (here, two ways!), Legrenzi drew deep from the well of Meonteverdi in his Harmonia d’affetti devoti for two, three, and four voices with organ bass, a piece which was intended for liturgical use. And yet the texts are maximally expressive, Legrenzi's melodic gifts at their height, Listen to the linear fluency of the third track, Occurite celestes. The winding, intertwining vocal lines are an absolute joy, sung by contralto Andrea Arrivabene and tenor Gianluca Ferrarini
The acoustic is perfect: the Palatine Basilica of Santa Barbara in Mantua. This is the first complete recording of Legrenzi's op. 3, and it could hardly ask for finer artists, or a finer recording. The piece is dedicated to Alessandro Farnese (1545–1592), Duke of Parma and it is a piece that played a part in the development of the so called concertato style. Texts are original (although the author is uknown).
The variety of emotions Legrenzi invokes is vast. Try now the eternal damnation and redemptive suffering of No. 7, O Sanctissimum, which featured three of the four soloists (soprano Alessandro Carmigiani, contralto Andrea Arrivabene and bass Marcello Vargetto):
During his time in Bergamo and Ferrar, Legrenzi might well have afmiliarised himself with folk idions, and we can hear those in the «Obscurum non habet» from Quid timetis pastores?, the first track on the second disc, when the music suddenly lightens:
The sheer beauty of L:egrenzu's Salve Regina here is almost unfeasible. Listen to how Nova Ars Cantandi approach phrase endings, with teh perfect tapering: 
Listening to this twofer straight through is something of an immersve experience: the timescale truly allows one to enter into Legrenzi's highly individual, beautifully sculpted world.
The final Adoramus te is, unsurprisingly, a highly interior statement. Listening to the menbers of Nova Ars Cantandi, with their vibrato-free delivery, and Ivana Valotti's fine organ contribution, this is the perfect close:
Texts and translations are not printed in the booklet but are however available here:
This is a near-faultless release, with superb booklet notes by the group's director, Giovanni Acciai (who also prepared the dition used in the recording). The only thing missing seems to be details of the organ used ... that should deter absolutely no-one, but I do know a few organinsts who would welcome that information. This is a real jewel in Naxos' catalogue.
                                                                                                                                                          (Colin Clarke, Classical explorer)


May 2021

Prominent protagonist of the Italian Baroque, greatly admired by Bach, Giovanni Legrenzi is an almost forgotten author today. We therefore welcome this splendid recording by the «Nova Ars Cantandi» vocal ensemble, admirably directed by Giovanni Acciai with Ivana Valotti on the organ. Music which, in addition to representing a summary synthesis of various contem-porary and past experiences, is a prodigy in itself for the originality of the poetic invention. It is curious to note, apart from any controversy and just to give a picture of the situation, as in Italy, in addition to a lack of «centri-fugal» attention for what happens outside of us in the field of world contemporary production, especially non-European, a «centripetal» disinterest reigns. towards the recovery and enhancement of our historical heritage. I consider all this the symptom of a disease that has a very specific name: provincialism. The significant fact seems to me to be this: scores in hand, there is no reason to underestimate this repertoire, which naturally needs competent interpreters to shine. All the more significant is this record, those who find it hard to agree with me will approach it and change their mind. Praise therefore and thanks to Maestro Giovanni Acciai and to the interpreters.

Massimo Giuseppe Bianchi («Il Saggiatore musicale») 



April 2021

Eine knappe Stunde dauert diese vorbildliche Weltersteinspielung der «Compiete op. 7» des italienischen Renaissancemeisters Giovanni Legrenzi (1626 - 1690), den das italienische Vorzeigeensembie Nova Ars Cantandi nun brandaktuell für Naxos vorleght.Sein künstlerischer Leiter Giovanni Acciai zähit spätestens seit seiner Übernahme der Leitung des RAI-Kammerchores in Rom 1989 zu den wichtigsten Persönlichkeiten der europäischen Alte-Musik-Chorszene und hat sich mit der Einspielung zum bevorstehenden 75. Geburtstag selbst Gas größte Geschenk gemacht: in jeder Sekunde können die Hörerlnnen das hier in diese besondere Aufnahme eingeflossene Herzblut hören.Schon der Beginn dieser Sakralmusikplatte atmet Exzentrik, wenn Alessandro Carmignani in Sopranhöhe die introduktion «Iube, Domne, benedicere» intoniert. Die Sänger werfen sich im Folgenden stets gekonnt die Bälle zu und erreichen in den homophonen Passagen einen satten Sound, der seinesgleichen sucht.Auch das «Confiteor», in seiner Süsse bezaubernd, noch mehr das «Cum invocarem» führen in grenzwertige Hôhen, .die staunen machen. Das alles trägt zu einer nachhaltigen sakralen Atmosphäre bei, die durch die ganze Platte trägt. Was aber ungemein zusagt, ist der kühne, füllige Bassgesang Marcello Vargettos, der aufpassen muss, dass er nicht ins Operngenre hinūberschwenkt. Sicher gäbe er einen fabelhaften Osmin (Anmerkung der Redaktion: Opernpartie aus Mozarts «Entführung aus dem Serail»). Die Ausdrucksbandbreite der Nova Ars Cantandi ist aber besonders im «Cum invocarem» weit gefächert, wobei der Fokus stets auf Schônklang liegt. Die hier gezeighte verblüffende Homogenität des Gesanges kann nur eine Formation erreichen, die schon lange gemeinsam probt und konzertiert.Hervorgehoben werden muss noch das Ende der CD, das in einer riesigen emotionalen Stretta bereits ab der «Litaniae Beatae Mariae Virginis» eingeläutet wird. Die Texte sind zum Glück alle im lateinischen Original und in englischer übersetzung abgedruckt, so dass die Hörerinnen bequem Harmonik und sich sonstig auftuende Besonderheiten am Text festmachen können. Auch hier dominiert die beglückende Harmonie itatienischer Renaissancemusik in Vollendung, inklusive der Ausführung. Das ist eine beeindruckende Leistung groBer Intimität und Flexibilität. Dezent formt die Orgel im Hintergrund die harmonische Stütze, ohne je aufdringlich zu werden: immer steht der lobende Gesang im Zertrum, so auch im «Alma Redemptoris Mater», «Regina Coeli» und «Salve, regina» krönen eine absolut empfehlenswerte


Ersteinspielung.(Manuel Stangorra, Chorzeit n. 81)

Ensembleklang:  Five stars     

 Interpretation:    Five stars