Monday 29 December 2014

De Profundis - Vasari Singers

De Profundis - Vasari Singers
Pizzetti, Malipiero, Allegri, MacMillan, Puccini; The Vasari Singers, Jeremy Backhouse; Naxos
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 20 2014
Star rating: 4.0

MacMillan and Pizzetti at two ends of a fascinating and refined programme.

This new disc on Naxos from Jeremy Backhouse and the Vasari Singers, puts Pizzetti's Requiem at the centre of a programme which ranges from Allegri, through Puccini to Pizzetti, Malipiero and on to James McMillan. The works on this disc form a series of links, complements and consequences. All are, to some extent, 20th century. 

Vasari Singers
Vasari Singers
Pizzetti and Malipiero were friends and their twinned De Profundis settings were presents to each other after a long falling out. Pizzetti's earlier Messa di Requiem finishes the disc, alongside Puccini's short Requiem written for Verdi and played at a memorial for Puccini's in 1924 when Pizzetti gave the oration. In the middle the Allegri Miserere, in its form created by 20th century editors, is complemented with James MacMillan's setting of the same psalm commissioned by The Sixteen to go with the Allegri. The works are all linked by a feeling of elegiac melancholy.

Pizzetti and Malipiero's setting of the De Profundis date from 1937, the two are very different with Pizzetti's written for choir and Malipiero's setting for baritone, viola and organ. Pizzetti's De Profundis is chant influenced but clearly in Pizzetti's conservative 20th century voice, the music restless and passionate with a fine climax in a strong performance from Backhouse and the Vasari Singers. Malipiero's De Profundis combines Jon Thorne's expressive viola with Matthew Woods' lovely flexible baritone into a rather arioso-like piece. Like Pizzetti, Malipiero's style is 20th century conservative, but full of interest.

Allegri's Miserere is sung in the now traditional version with the top C which seems to have been introduced by a 20th century editor (see Ben Byram Wigfield's article). The performance here is notable for its clarity, with expressive chant and a lovely clear, slimline soprano soloists. The solo vary the abellimenti, this creating a continuity with the 19th century tradition of performance.

James MacMillan's Miserere was commissioned in 2008 by The Sixteen. There is a familiar MacMillan cast to the music. Backhouse starts at quite a gentle tempo giving the work a relaxed feel. he sopranos have quite a slimline tone, creating aetherial moments which move to something edgier at times of drama.

Puccini's Requiem is a short work, written for choir, organ and violin solo. It was composed in 1905 for the celebrations to mark the fourth anniversary of Verdi's death. It is a lyrical attractive work and not immediately recognisable as Puccini.

 Pizzetti's Messa di Requiem was written in 1922, it reflects his interest in and knowledge of plainchant and polyphony. The Requiem and Kyrie has lovely long flexible lines, with clear hints of the plainchant influences. The Vasari Singers give the work a light tone, low key and often relaxed with moments of drama. The Dies Irae is the longest movement of the piece, and is a world away from the blood and thunder of Verdi's setting. Backhouse makes it quiet and vivid, and the big moments have the clarity of renaissance polyphony.  The Sanctus has a clear, transparent sound with a lovely purity to it. Backhouse's approach pay rich dividends in the way he creates a delicacy of texture. The concluding Agnus Dei has a fabulously clear line from the sopranos.

This is not the most passionate nor big boned of accounts of Pizzetti's Requiem, it is in fact quite refined in terms of performance. I still have to admit a preference for James O'Donnell's performance of this work with Westminster Cathedral Choir. O'Donnell seems to make the work more dramatic and intense, with faster speeds and the superb sound of the Westminster boys. But Backhouse and the Vasari Singers give a refined poise to Pizzetti's Requiem and it is combined with a fascinating selection of works. It is also heartening to find another group recording MacMillan's powerful Miserere.

Ildebrando Pizzetti (1880-1968) - De Profundis [5.23]
Gian Francesco Malipiero (1882-1973) - De Profundis [4.34]
Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652) - Miserere [13.27]
James MacMillan (born 1959) - Miserere [12.33]
Giacomo Puccini (1858 - 1924) - Requiem [5.38]
Ildebrando Pizzetti (1880-1968) - Messa di Requiem [28.25]
Jocelyn Somerville (soprano)
Susan Watson (soprano)
Julia Smith (soprano)
Elizabeth Atkinson (alto)
Julia Ridout (alto)
Paul Robertson (tenor)
Keith Long (bass)
Matt Bernstein (bass)
Vasari Singers
Jeremy Backhouse (conductor)
Recorded 21-23 February 2014 at Tonbridge School Chapel
NAXOS 8.573196 1CD [70.01] Matthew Wood (baritone)

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