Wednesday 7 October 2015

Marcello Psalms

Benedetto Marcello - Psalms
Benedetto Marcello Psalms; Voces8, Les Inventions; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 22 2015
Star rating: 4.5

A delightful discovery, Marcello's settings of the psalms in a lovely new disc from Voces8

Who knew that these delightful works existed? Benedetto Marcello's psalms, Estro poetico-armonico are settings of the first fifty Psalms of David in Italian paraphrases. This disc on Signum Classics label from Voces8 and Les Inventions contains four psalms in English made by the 18th century English composer Charles Avison, Psalm 11, Psalm 32, Psalm 50 and Psalm 46 along with Marcello's Ciaccona from Sonata Op.2 No.12 and Canon Triplex.

Benedetto Marcello was a Venetian born composer, from a respected family so that he combined career in law with one in music, studying with both Lotti and Gasparini. His Estro poetico-armonico was published in 1724 to 1726, setting the first 50 psalms in paraphrases by Girolamo Ascanio Giustiniani. The psalms were immediately extremely popular, and were translated into a wide number of languages. Venice had the oldest Sephardic community in Italy, and Marcello's music seems to include sections based on Hebrew psalmody. In fact, Marcello's psalms were used in a wide variety of religious traditions including Lutheran, Anglican and Jewish.

The psalms were published with a simple figured bass with no indications of instrumentation, so for variety and flexibility, this disc uses harp, theorbo, organ, cello and double bass, and occasionally there is an obligato instrument.

The Newcastle born and based composer Charles Avison and his Durham based colleague John Garth published their English version of Marcello's psalms in 1757 and Avison wrote in his introduction that 'they will be considered as proper performances for the service of our Cahedrals, for which Purpose chiefly they are adapted into English'. I am not sure whether this would be true nowadays as the psalms are all very substantial pieces, on this disc lasting between 9 minutes and 17 minutes each. What is impressive is that, though Marcello has set verse paraphrases the settings are not strophic and the music follows the emotional details of the texts.

This means that the music is more varied and more chorally interesting than something like a 17th century Verse Anthem. Some sections are extremely varied and highly detailed in their textures, whereas others include long structured sections such as Psalm 32 with its Blessed is the man over a long ground bass, but others are truly quicksilver. There is an appealing artlessness and directness of expression in this music, but it is certainly by no means simple or simplistic.

The writing is quite madrigalian and different psalms use different choral forces, alongside the soloists. In the performances there is a fine match between the work and the vocalism with Voces8's highly polished very solo-based ensemble (a style that I feel has not always matched their repertoire in the past) working well. As we would expect from this group, the vocal performances are very polished with fine diction (you don't need the words, which are however printed in the CD booklet). Les Inventions provide fine support.

The instrumentalists get to show their paces on their own with the Ciaccona from Marcello's sonata, which is a lovely dancey piece. The disc concludes with the wonderfully rich six-part canon which comes at the end of Marcello's Estro poetico-armonico.

This is a lovely disc and a delightful discovery. These works certainly deserve to be better known and what better way to get to know them via these wonderfully fresh performances.

Benedetto Marcello (1686-1739), edited/translated Charles Avison (1709-1770) - Psalm 11: In the Lord my God put I my trust (1724-26/1757) [9.07]
Benedetto Marcello (1686-1739), edited/translated Charles Avison (1709-1770) - Psalm 32: Blessed is he whose wickedness is forgiven (1724-26/1757) [17.06]
Benedetto Marcello (1686-1739) - Ciaccona from Sonata Nr12 Opus 2 [4.16]
Benedetto Marcello (1686-1739), edited/translated Charles Avison (1709-1770) - Psalm 50: The Lord Jehovah, even the most mighty God, hath spoken (1724-26/1757) [16.01]
Benedetto Marcello (1686-1739), edited/translated Charles Avison (1709-1770) - Psalm 46: God is our refuge and our strength (1724-26/1757) [9.00]
Benedetto Marcello (1686-1739) - Canon Triplex: In omnium terram exivit sonus eorum [4.25]
Voces8 (Andrea Haines, Emily Dickens, Barnaby Smith, Christopher Wardle, Charles MacDougall, Robert Mingay Smith, Paul Smith, Dingle Yangle)
Les Inventions (Reinhild Waldeck - harp and recorder, Etienne Galletier - theorbo, Mark Dupere - cello, Thomas de Pierrefeu - violone, Patrick Ayrton - organ)
Recorded France, 17-17 August 2015

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