Friday 8 July 2022

Gareth Wilson & choir of Girton College, Cambridge return to the richly textured music of Marc'Antonio Ingegneri for a second disc on Toccata Classics

Marc'Antonio Ingegneri: Missa Voce mea a 5 and Double Choir motets; Choir of Girton College, Cambridge, Historic Brass of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Jeremy West, Gareth Wilson; TOCCATA
Marc'Antonio Ingegneri: Missa Voce mea a 5 and Double Choir motets; Choir of Girton College, Cambridge, Historic Brass of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Jeremy West, Gareth Wilson; TOCCATA
Reviewed 6 July 2022 (★★★★½)

Girton Choir's second disc of music by Ingegneri reveals a wealth of hitherto unknown music, the rich textures amplified by the participation of historic brass to superb effect.

In 2019, Gareth Wilson and the choir of Girton College, Cambridge, did a tour to Lombardy culminating in a performance at Cremona Cathedral where Marc'Antonio Ingegneri was director of music until his death in 1592. Following this tour the choir recorded a disc of Ingegneri's music for Toccata Classics [see my review]. For the past few years this has been the pattern, that the choir tours a programme in the Summer and then records it, having gained familiarity with the music. This whole pattern was shattered by the events of 2020 and no recording ensued. Thanks to a considerable amount of fancy footwork, a tour (of sorts) was undertaken in 2021 and thankfully Wilson and the choir were able to make a second disc of Ingegneri's music. A remarkable achievement.

The second volume of Gareth Wilson and the choir of Girton College, Cambridge's recording of music by Marc'Antonio Ingegneri on Toccata Classics sees them collaborating with the historic brass of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, leader Jeremy West, on Ingegneri's Missa Voce Mea and a selection of his double-choir motets. All are first recordings.

Unlike his pupil, Monteverdi, Ingegneri was not an innovator. The music on this disc is all richly textured and immensely rewarding, yet it remains within 16th century stylistic norms. And whilst Ingegneri did live through the entire Council of Trent, as Carlos Rodriguez Otero points out in his fascinating booklet article, the council's final pronouncements in 1562 and 1563 made little or no reference to music. Similarly in Cremona the bishop seems to have been most concern with matters such as priestly negligence, poor religious education and declining attendance. What we can say is that the cathedral choir flourished and became a serious choral institution.

The centrepiece of the disc is Ingegneri's five-voice Missa Voce mea, a parody mass based on a motet, Voce mea that Ingegneri thought was by Cipriano de Rore but which is now attributed to Paolo Animuccia. The mass setting was published in 1573. Ingegneri's parody technique contributes to the richness of texture of the mass as, rather than take sections from the source material and place them untouched, Ingegneri breaks it down into smaller motifs and uses them contrapuntally to create some remarkably dense textures. It is highly academic, certainly, but there is an emotional pull too and this music is certainly not dry.

What gives these performances their particular colour is the participation of the historic brass (and the title page of Ingegneri's published book of polychoral motets makes it clear that instruments were expected to join in). All the mass movements are performed by a mixture of singers and brass (five cornetts, four sackbuts) to striking effect. The simple colour of the lines, with a mix of singers and brass, is significantly different and Ingegneri's rich textures come out as highly appealing and wonderfully all enveloping. This is sober, finely serious music suitable to a solemn sacred occasion, yet finely imaginative too.

We hear eight of Ingegneri's double-choir motets, Exultate Deo, Domine exaudi, Beata viscera, Vidi montes, O pretiosum, O quam suavis, Ave verum corpus, and Hodie assumpta est Maria. Domine exaudi, O pretiosum and O quam suavis are played by the brass alone, to striking effect, whilst the others are supremely gorgeous with their combination of double choir, voices and brass. These are glorious pieces and it is puzzling that they have remained unknown for such a long time. Wilson and his performers do not, however, luxuriate too much in the beauty of the music, there is a fine clarity of line to the performance and textures, though rich, are finely clear.  

The disc ends with a pair of motets which are especially striking. Ave Verum Corpus, with its lovely long lines and intersecting choirs, then Hodie assumpta est Maria where Ingegneri uses nine voices (the nine ranks of angels welcoming the Virgin into heaven) to stunning effect. The Feast of the Assumption was particularly important in Cremona and you can imagine the stunning effect this music would have as the culmination of the Eucharist on the cathedral's patronal festival

Marc'Antonio Ingegneri (c1535/36-1592) - Exultate deo
Paolo Animuccia - Voce mea (formerly attributed to Cipriano de Rore)
Marc'Antonio Ingegneri - Missa Voce mea a 5
Marc'Antonio Ingegneri - Domine exaudi
Marc'Antonio Ingegneri - Beata viscera
Marc'Antonio Ingegneri - Vidi montes
Marc'Antonio Ingegneri - O pretiosum
Marc'Antonio Ingegneri - O quam suavis
Marc'Antonio Ingegneri - Ave verum corpus
Marc'Antonio Ingegneri  Hodie assumpta est Maria
Choir of Girton College, Cambridge
Historic Brass of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
Jeremy West (leader)
Gareth Wilson (director)
Recorded at St George's Church, Chesterton, Cambridge, 15-17 July 2021


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