The Gonzaga Band winningly demonstrates here that early-seventeenth-century north Italian Vesper settings are not restricted to a certain set by Monteverdi that has become indelibly associated with Venice. Amadio Freddi (c.1580-1643) worked, successively, in the nearby cities of Padua, Treviso and Vicenza on the mainland, and his collection “Messa, vespro et compieta” (from which the present Vespers are drawn) was published in 1616 in Treviso. True, they are nothing like as grand in scale or invention; but they follow a similar structural pattern in being grounded upon the plainsong chants for the Psalms set, and perhaps represent the sort of repertoire which was heard in more ordinary ecclesiastical settings than either San Marco or the court in Mantua where Monteverdi first assembled his celebrated set.
Six voices alone constitute the chorus here (a soprano, two countertenors, two tenors, and a bass) supported by violin, cornett and organ. With their tightly integrated ensemble singing in which every voice is critical, these performances create an intimate, chamber-like approach to this music, even in the generally more homophonic, chordal textures of Freddi’s settings. Although the tense nasal timbre of the countertenors lends the music a suitable Italianate flair (they have a brief purple patch at fifty seconds into the ‘Laudate pueri’), and William Gaunt projects the bass solo of the ‘Lauda Jerusalem’ boldly, these are not, otherwise, performances of burning passion or ardour, but are addressed to the Virgin Mary with quietly rapt devotion (the settings are appropriate for a liturgy in her honour). The concluding ‘Magnificat’ rises to an appreciable degree of joy however, as do the soaring lines of the more florid ‘Ave maris stella’, aided by the particularly bright and high pitch of A=466Hz adopted for this recording.
In his informative liner notes, Jamie Savan (who both directs and plays the cornett) observes that with the instrumental forces employed, Freddi was “ahead of his time[,] fusing elements of the nascent trio sonata with the concertato motet”, and setting a pattern that was followed subsequently. Certainly it marked him off from those composers still writing in a cappella polyphonic style, and the Gonzaga Band’s accompaniment is enthusiastic and stylish, without intruding upon the vocal textures. Rather they come into their own in the instrumental extracts interspersed among Freddi’s choral movements, by the somewhat better-known composers Dario Castello and Biagio Marini where the silvery tone of Oliver Webber’s violin is complemented by the sonorous solemnity of Savan’s contribution.
The liturgical sequence is imaginatively fleshed out by Motets from two of Freddi’s other published collections, alongside one by Alessandro Grandi. Soprano Faye Newton and tenor Thomas Herford step up for the former with urgent, yearning interpretations acting as a foil for the more dignified choral settings. Intonaziones for the organ by the great Venetian composers Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli make appropriate modulations between pieces. Steven Devine plays these on an electronic organ which may lack the absolutely authentic breath of a pipe instrument, but its recorded samples stem from an eighteenth-century Italian instrument, tuned to a ¼ comma mean tone temperament, adding a delicious piquancy to the music overall.
With texts included and the Vesper settings claimed as world premiere recordings, this is an important addition to the catalogue of Baroque choral music.