Tuesday 6 February 2018

Giovanni Croce revealed

Giovanni Croce
Giovanni Croce motets; Voces Suaves, Concerto Scirocco; Outhere Music Arcana
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 06 2018 Star rating: 3.5
The engaging music of one of Giovanni Gabrieli's contemporaries revived on the important disc

The composer Giovanni Croce is someone whose work I suspect few of us have come across in details. This new disc from Outhere Music's Arcana label seeks to remedy that. The vocal ensemble Voces Suaves, director Francesco Saverio Pedrini, and the instrumental ensemble Concerto Scirocco, director Giulia Genini, have recorded a programme of Giovanni Croce's motets for eight and for five voices, nine in all, along with instrumental music by Croce's contemporaries.

Giovanni Croce (1557-1609) was a colleague and competitor of Giovanni Gabrieli (c1554/57 - 1612), both would work as St Mark's in Venice, the one becoming maestro di cappella and the other organist and principal composer. Giovanni Croce has started as a boy soprano and worked his way upp. Part of this process was regularly publishing works. He seems to have had some sort of understanding with the printer Giacomo Vincenti, a relative newcomer on the scene and keen to establish himself. Finally, in 1603 Croce became maestro di cappella at St Mark's at which point his publishing virtually stopped, having produced 15 collections of sacred music and seven of secular madrigals (he never seems to have written instrumental music).

On this disc we have seven eight-part motets from Croce's Motetti a otto voci, Libro Primo (Venice 1594) and two five-part motets from Croces' Sacrae cantiones quinis vocibus concinendae (Venice 1605). The layout of the parts in the double choir motets is reflected in the indications from the Spartitura for the motets, published the same year in a separate edition. So we have two-choir motets where choir one is made up of instruments and singers, and choir two just singers.

Croce's style is melifluous and approachable, he writes none of the complexity which makes Giovanni Gabrieli's works so fascinating. And structurally, as Rodolfo Baroncini's excellent booklet note explains, Croce opts for clarity too. I found the results very engaging with the singers making an attractive soft grained sound which blends well with the instruments. The balance is quite natural, without the singers dominating which is probably what happened, but not everyone will perhaps like this consort approach with one person to a part but the results have a lively engaging quality thanks to the energy of the singers.

The disc was recorded in the church of Santa Barbara in Mantua, which would have been familiar territory to Croce's younger contemporary Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643). The choir and instrumentalists use the church space well with its two opposing choir lofts. And, of course, the organ forms a significant component in the motets as well as being a soloist in its own right in Vincenzo Bell'haver's Toccata, Andrew Gabrieli's Canzon ariosa and Claudio Merulo's Toccata Terza.

The instruments also get their moments of glory with the instrumental works by Giovanni Picchi, Giovanni Gabrieli and Giosetto Guami, which form a nice contrast with the vocal works.

In every age, we have a tendency to focus on just one or two composers. This disc reveals that the sound of St Mark's wasn't just the gorgeous complexity of Giovanni Gabrieli but was also the melifluousness of Giovanni Croce's music too. This is an immensely fascinating and valuable disc, and a most enjoyable one as the performers clearly revel in the lovely textures which Croce creates. This is an important disc, one which sheds light on the wider musical activity in Venice rather than concentrating on the big names. Giovanni Croce's music is well worth discovering .

Giovanni Croce (c1557 - 1609) - Omnes gentes
Giovanni Picchi (1571-1643) - Canzon decimaquarta
Giovanni Croce - Anima mea liquifacta est
Giovanni Croce - Percussit Saul mille
Vincenzo Bell'haver (1540-1587) - Toccata del pimo tuono
Giovanni Croce - Egredimini et videte
Giovanni Gabrieli (1557-1612) - Canton Terza a quattro
Giovanni Croce - Ornaverunt faciem templi
Andrea Gabrieli (1553-1585) - Canzon ariosa
Giovanni Croce - Ave virgo
Giovanni Gabrieli - Canzon terza a sei
Giovanni Croce - Virgo decus nemorum
Giosetto Guami (1542-1611) - Canzon settimadecima
Giovanni Croce - Hodie completi sunt
Claudio Merulo (1533 - 1604) - Toccat Terza
Giovanni Croce - Quaeramus cum pastoribus
Voces Suaves (Francesco Saverio Pedrini, director)
Concerto Scirocco (Giulia Genini, director)
Recorded 12-15 October 2015 and 6 March 2017 in palatine church of Santa Barbara, Mantua, Italy
ARCANA A439 1CD [52.19]
Available from Amazon.

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  • Singing to create a national identity: the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir - concert review
  • From oboe to podium: Leo Duarte on Handel pasticcios, playing the oboe & period singing style  - my interview
  • Finely balanced casting: Handel's Orlando from La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square - Opera review
  • Hamlet reinvented: Ambroise Thomas' opera from Opera2Day in The Hague - Opera review
  • Music for the Queen of Heaven - the Marian Consort in 21st and 20th century music - CD review
  • Debut treehouse - intimate, innovative and engaging - concert review
  • Classical music with a popular twist: I chat to Lithuanian composer Gediminas Gelgotas - interview
  • Seeing the genre develop: Lully & Quinault's second tragédie en musique, Alceste  - CD review
  • Celebrating Estonian style - the distinctively stylish Estonian Voices - concert review
  • 1768: A Retropective - Chiara Skerath, Katy Bircher, Ian Page, The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall - concert review
  • The Schuman's at Home - Julius Drake and Sophie Bevan at Temple Music - concert review
  • Eavesdropping on David Pountney rehearsing Verdi's La forza del destino at Welsh National Opera - feature article
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