HOUSTON CHAMBER CHOIR
COLONNA: PSALMI AD VESPERASfor five soloists, choir, and strings, Opus 12 (1694)
Edited by Pyrros Bamichas
Giovanni Paolo Colonna
HOUSTON CHAMBER CHOIR
HOUSTON CHAMBER CHOIR FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA
Melissa Givens, soprano
Kelli Shircliffe, soprano
Ryland Angel, countertenor
Eduardo Tercero, tenor
Matthew Treviño, bass
HOUSTON CHAMBER CHOIR
Sopranos - Lisa Borik, Penelope Campbell, Kammi Estelle, Stephanie Handal, Briana Kruse, Hallie Reed, Lynelle Rowley, Stacey Weber
Altos - Andrea Brown, Gerald Caliendo, Jennifer Gallagher, Daria Myers, Marianna Parnas-Simpson, Ryan Stickney
Tenors - L. Wayne Ashley, Dominick DiOrio, Francisco Espinoza, Jesse Obbink, Jeffrey Ragsdale, Andrew Willits
Basses - Mark Edenfield, Felipe Gasper, Jeffrey Van Hal, Randolph Wagner, Michael Walsh, Joshua Wilson
Violin I - Alan Austin, Sean Wang
Violin II - Noel Martin, Nadia Lesinska
Viola - John Randolph, Alicia Valoti
Viola da gamba - James Brown, Brady Lanier
Violoncello - Farley Pearce, Matthew Dudzik
Violone - Deborah Dunham
Baroque harp - Becky Baxter
Theorbo - Richard Savino
Organ - Matthew Dirst
World Premiere Recording
“Robert Simpson has created an appropriate and tasteful sound world. The tempos are nicely contrasting between the sections, the continuo drives the motion forward, and the textures are all well defined. The choral singing of the Houston Chamber Chorus is right on pitch, with a full and expansive sound, adding considerable depth to the music. The soloists are all extremely capable, with sopranos Melissa Givens and Kelli Shircliffe floating with a clear and brilliant tone in their parts. Bass Matthew Treviño is nicely resonant, and his use of vibrato only heightens the gravitas of his lines. Countertenor Ryland Angel and tenor Eduardo Tercero also blend nicely, and one would wish that the composer would have made more use of them. As for the orchestra, it is difficult to know whether these are period instruments or modern ones performing with appropriate baroque performance practice. If the former, the quality is every bit as accurate as the many European ensembles, while if the latter, then they have achieved a rare goal of sounding 17th century. This is one recording that baroque music lovers will need to have in their collection.”
Bertil van Boer, Fanfare - Issue 36:6 [July/Aug 2013]
“this is exciting music… It is also exuberant music-making. There is a sense of joy here that is a pleasure to hear. The soloists are all fine, the choir makes a large, bright, sound, and the unnamed orchestra is just right to balance the whole ensemble. Simpson chooses generally fleet tempos but there is no sense of racing through the music… As a later alternative to Monteverdi’s superb setting, Colonna’s will do very nicely, and we are in Robert Simpson’s debt for having brought it to light.”
Alan Swanson, Fanfare - Issue 36:6 [July/Aug 2013]
“[Colonna’s] music consistently displays a degree of imaginativeness that puts it a rung or two above all but his greatest contemporaries, and positively cries out for revival. All hail to this CD, then, for bringing Colonna back to our minds and ears with these fine renditions of psalm and canticle settings from the composer’s final Vespers collection of 1694… The Houston Chamber Choir has solid period-performance credentials. [The HCC] sound is considerably weightier than that of a specialist baroque choir, though its sections sing with scrupulous clarity and balance of their respective vocal lines. Likewise, among the five soloists… The 14-member instrumental ensemble plays most stylishly… The recorded sound is rich, full, and spacious, and yet avoids any untoward reverberation that would occlude the interweaving vocal and instrumental parts.”
James A. Altena, Fanfare - Issue 36:6 [July/Aug 2013]
“The solo vocal writing is highly virtuosic in places, indicating the caliber of voices Colonna had at his disposal… The performance by Robert Simpson and the Houston Chamber Choir and Orchestra is highly respectable … The music itself is thoroughly professional [and conveys] something of the grandeur of the festive liturgies at San Petronio”
Gatens, American Record Guide [March/April 2013]
“The name Giovanni Paolo Colonna is one of those in the world of music which ought to be known but isn’t… The works presented here, however, are clear indications of how modern a composer Colonna was… As for the performance itself, conductor Robert Simpson has created an appropriate and tasteful sound world. The tempos are nicely contrasting in the sections, the continuo drives the motion forward, and the textures are all well-defined. The choral singing of the Houston Chamber Chorus is right on pitch, with a full and expansive sound, adding considerable depth to the music. The soloists are all extremely capable, with sopranos Melissa Givens and Kelli Shircliffe floating with a clear and brilliant tone in their parts. Bass Matthew Treviño is nicely resonant, and his use of vibrato only heightens the gravitas of his lines. Both Ryland Angel’s rich countertenor and Eduardo Tercero also blend nicely, and one would wish that the composer would have made more use of them... This is one recording that Baroque music lovers will need to have in their collection.”
Bertil van Boer, Fanfare [May/June 2013]
"[This is] a ravishing example of late-Rennaisance Italian choral music...[it is] performed with glowing warmth by the Houston Chamber Choir and its orchestra... Colonna tends towards a more intimate, but ultimateky no less glorious sound. This is a wonderful, wonderful album and should find a home in every early music collection."
Rick Anderson, CD Hotlist for Libraries [January 2013]
"[Colonna has an] overriding sense of musicality, employing all the tools at a composer's disposal..."
Ken Smith, Gramophone [March 2013]
PROGRAM NOTESHouston Chamber Choir gratefully acknowledges the Web Library of Seventeenth-Century Music, Alexander Silbiger, General Editor, for the modern edition of Colonna's Psalmi ad Vesperas, edited by Pyrros Bamichas. http://sscm-wlscm.org
The Latin texts are taken from the Liber usualis (edited by the Benedictines of Solesmes, Tournai, 1953); translations are taken from the Saint Andrew Daily Missal (edited by Dom Gaspar Lefebvre, O.S.B., of the Abbey of St.-André, Bruges, 1954). Both are provided in the modern edition by Pyrros Bamichas.
The magnificent Psalmi ad Vesperas of Giovanni Paolo Colonna illustrate the little-known splendor of late 17th-century sacred music in northern Italy. As maestro di cappella at the prestigious church of San Petronio in Bologna from 1674 to his death in 1695, Colonna composed elaborate festive masses, motets, and psalms for performance there. During that time he also served in the same capacity at several other Bolognese churches and was a charter member of the Accademia Filarmonica, elected four times as principe (president) of that august institution. A native Bolognese, he went to Rome as a young man to study counterpoint with masters like Carissimi. He was also an organist and an organbuilder, helping to construct the casings for the two magnificent organs in the apse at San Petronio, as well as an organ for the Duke of Modena.
The fame of San Petronio’s musical cappella, begun by Colonna’s predecessor Maurizio Cazzati, was greatly increased in the two decades of Colonna’s stewardship. The group included both vocalists and instrumentalists, its permanent roster often augmented by numerous extra musicians, especially for the patronal feast on October 6th each year. For this and other important celebrations, the Mass and Vespers were given splendid musical treatment in the concerted style, involving chorus, soloists, and instruments.
The Vespers service is the evening prayer of the Divine Office, traditionally sung by monks on simple psalm tones. It consists of five psalms differing according to the liturgical occasion, each preceded by a short chant (antiphon) particular to the day and each ending with the Doxology in praise of the Trinity. The service ends with a setting of the Magnificat, the joyful New Testament canticle of the Virgin Mary upon learning she was to be the mother of God. From its beginnings in Gregorian chant, Vespers gradually took on the complexities of counterpoint in the Renaissance and the elaborate concerted style of the 17th century.
Colonna’s Vespers collection, probably composed around 1690 and printed in the last year of his life, is a splendid example of his mature sacred music. It contains the response to the opening versicle of Vespers, eight psalms, and a Magnificat. Because it was printed and meant to be sold to various churches, its contents were sufficient to cover the prescribed cycles of psalms needed for any occasion in a church with the requisite musical forces. Undoubtedly he had in mind his own cappella, but the opening versicle response and two psalms (Beatus vir and Confitebor) use a slightly different arrangement of voices and instruments than was usual at San Petronio. These works may have been in a manuscript collection of Colonna’s music, requested by the Emperor Leopold I for performance in Vienna and included here to make the printed collection more widely usable. The contents were probably not intended to be used all in a single service. (The psalms Laudate pueri Dominum, Laetatus sum, and Lauda Jerusalem Dominum from the collection are not included on this recording.)
Colonna’s collection of Psalms contains both large and small-scale works in a marvelously varied kaleidoscope of solo voices, instrumental music and full-choir passages. The grand proportions of the Dixit Dominus contrast with the smaller, yet brilliant, scope of the Nisi Dominus. Dramatic contrasts are provided by changes in texture, tempo, and tonal centers. The five soloists sing together in various combinations or in movements for a single voice. The ripieno, or full choir, often joins the solo voices, along with the full instrumental group, to finish individual movements in dramatic fashion or to provide stately chordal beginnings to significant texts as movements unfold.
Colonna’s Roman training and his early Bolognese study contributed to his music’s abundant choral sound, his versatility as a choral contrapuntist and his flair for dramatic contrast. His signature style is most evident in the contrapuntal movements, which are found in all the large-scale psalms. They typically begin with a full opening statement in chordal, declamatory style. Soloists then enter one- by-one, with the motives in imitation as the music becomes ever livelier. Eventually the full choir enters, along with the full instrumental group, and the texture builds to an exciting contrapuntal climax, only to subside as the soloists begin a new musical motive and new text, growing in density to a climactic close.
Sparkling solo passages demand the highest virtuosic skills of the performers. Bologna had a lively opera tradition in the 17th century and was also a strong center for thedevelopment of oratorios, which supplanted operas in the penitential seasons when opera was forbidden. Thus, excellent singers were always available for special performances in sacred music, especially in the basilica of San Petronio for its patronal feast. Of course, the soprano and alto parts were sung by male singers, either castrati or falsetti, as was the custom in church music at that time.
Instrumental music plays a very important part in Colonna’s mature sacred works. His cappella musicale included some of the best string players of the period: Giuseppe Torelli, Domenico Gabrielli, and others renowned for their virtuosity. The instrumental ensemble required for the majority of these psalms, the standard ensemble at San Petronio at this time, is two violin parts, alto viola, tenor viola, and violoncello, plus the organ as basso continuo. Due to the acoustics of this enormous church, the third largest in Italy after St. Peter’s in Rome and the cathedral in Milan, additional lower instruments were often used to reinforce the basso continuo line when the full group sang. In these works, the instruments provide not only the reinforcement or doubling of the vocal lines, but more often play independent passages or sinfonie that give structure to the movements, allow for expansion of thematic materials, and give respite to the singers. Instruments also frequently punctuate the soloist’s lines with motivic echoes or embroider them with independent music.
Colonna’s music is strongly tonal, as opposed to the modal music of earlier Renaissance counterpoint. It frequently modulates briefly, to closely related keys, sometimes in very unusual ways to illustrate particular words of the text. But we are, here, entering the age of tonality, which will dominate the music of the 18th century.
There are numerous instances of word-painting where the music reflects literally the meaning of the word, such as “ascendit” with a rising motive, or “dominare inimicorum” (to dominate enemies) where fiery 16th notes and hammering repeated syllables seem to conquer the foe. A priestly solemn bass solo illuminates the text “Tu es sacerdos” (You are a priest), while rapid key changes illustrate flowing water in “De torrente in via bibet” (He shall drink of the brook in the way). Pyrros Bamichas, editor of the score used in this recording, has pointed out in his introduction that Lauda Jerusalem, in its musical praise of Jerusalem’s virtues, is probably linked metaphorically to Bologna, a city always noted for its civic pride. Composed with the skill of a master contrapuntist, these are magnificent works on agrand scale that demonstrate the splendid spettacolo of Bolognese sacred music in the late 17th century. [ © 2012 Anne Schnoebelen ]
GIOVANNI PAOLO COLONNA (1637–1695)
PSALMI AD VESPERAS for five soloists, choir, and strings, Opus 12 (1694)
Edited by Pyrros Bamichas
Deus in adjutorium meum intende [Versicle - Gregorian Chant]
Domine ad adjuvandum me festina [Responsory]
Dixit Dominus [Psalm 109]
Confitebor tibi Domine [Psalm 110]
Beatus vir [Psalm 111]
Laudate Dominum omnes gentes [Psalm 116]
Nisi Dominus [Psalm 126]
Magnificat anima mea Dominum [Canticle of the Blessed Virgin, Luke 1:46-55]