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Sacred Music in 17th Century Rome

Giacomo Carissimi, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Tomás Luis De Victoria, Giovanni Pierluigi Da Palestrina, Giovanni Felice Sances

BRIAN SCHMIDT, conductor

Chapel organist: Christopher Jacobson
Accompanist: Sarah Bereza

Mallarmé Chamber Players
Washington Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble



“the Duke University groups reach a level that is quite above the run-of-the-mill, presenting a program that is cohesive, well integrated musically, and nicely executed. The resonance of the venue also helps, but it never overwhelms the music. While most may opt for discs focused on the individual composers represented here, the programming is quite good and thus one will obtain a set of interesting sacred works from this period performed in as fine a manner as one might wish.”
Bertil van Boer, Fanfare [May/June 2017]
“The performances are very good technically and warmly engaging... the standard is very high... Listeners
with an interest in this repertory will find the recording a delight.”
Gatens, American Record Guide [November/December 2016]
“The performance by the singers and players is just what the music deserves, and it makes a resounding celebration.... The mid-sized choir sounds superb in the renowned chapel. The singers meet the demands of these scores with aplomb, and the visiting players are exceptional, with the more obvious sounds of the brass ringing over the rest of the ensemble, as fine as any similar performance of this repertoire in my memory. [the program] moves from one gratifying piece of music to the next. This disc might well introduce you to the 17th century.”
J. F. Weber , Fanfare [November/December 2016]
[ * * * * * / 5 Stars] “[The] Duke Vespers Ensemble, with the help of equally accomplished colleagues, show a healthy bright-eyed enthusiasm and vocal splendor... [the] Missa Sancta Maria Magdalenae provides a thrilling world premiere... The easy expertise and wide knowledge of the musicians plus their roots in the Duke and Triangle communities, allows them to respond authentically for their listeners... [the Washington Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble and Mallarmé Chamber Players] play with authoritative style, splendid energy and first-class chops... the sound is equally healthy, bright and clear.”
Laurence Vittes, Audiophile Audition [October 2016]
“Schmidt and his forces regale the listener with performances of celestial beauty, dynamics are handled with impressive versatility and the balance has a warmth that allows the music's rhythmic energy to flow without hindrance. A gem of a disc in mesmerizing sound quality and attractive presentation that should not be missed”
Gerald Fenech, Music & Vision [September 2016]
“This release focuses on the composers who trained, taught, or influenced the music at the Vatican's Collegio Germanico during the 17th Century... It's a well-thought-out program that keeps the listener continually engaged... Grammy®-winning producer Blanton Alspaugh is at the helm [of the audio production], and the sound of the recording is near-perfect. It captures not only the performances but the ambiance of the space they're in -- an essential component for this style of music. And of course, full credits should go to Brian Schmidt and his performers. The Duke Vespers Ensemble has a warm, seamless blend, the Mallarmé Chamber Players and Washington Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble play cleanly and expressively. Bottom line: Beautiful music beautifully performed and beautifully recorded.”
Ralph Graves, Finding Beauty [August 2016]
[++++] “The excellence of a new MSR Classics recording featuring the Duke Vespers Ensemble lies only partly in the quality of the performance and only partly in the individual pieces performed. It lies as well in the totality of a recording whose 10 works effectively transport 21st-century listeners 400 years into the past… The singers offer beautifully blended sound to which the instruments of the Mallarmé Chamber Players and the Washington Cornet & Sackbut Ensemble add just the right melding of period performance practice and instrumental foundation for the voices. The result is music in which the vocal lines, abetted by the performers’ unusually clear diction, soar convincingly and meaningfully above the instruments while being neatly complemented by them as well... The overall feeling of Viva Italia is one of peace and tranquility, of polyphony in the service of spiritual nourishment.”
Mark J. Estren, InfoDad [August 2016]
“The Duke Vespers Ensemble, a conglomerate of two esteemed musical enterprises, portend these religious polyphonies and antiphons into a brilliant, convincing argument, personifying the realizations and admirations of a public eager for these musical epistles. The melding of voice and instrument garners well-conceived diction. Under command of Brian Schmidt, this MSR Classics recording has control and understated substance. There’s a broad feeling of heavenly discretion, politely metered via two musical factions featuring the expertise of the Mallarmé Chamber Players and the Washington Cornett Sackbut Ensemble. Peace and tranquility is elegantly pervasive with genuine appeal and comfort... Impressive and passive, Viva Italia is a timely release in this most uncertain world. Western Civilizations will find this CD an oasis of conservation, contemplation, and amiable consideration. Sound quality is excellent. Recommended.”
Christie Grimstad, ConcertoNet [July 2016]
“... presented by the Duke Vespers under their inspired conductor Brian Schmidt... The recorded sound is good throughout the program, possessing gracious warmth and clarity without over-emphasizing either, so that the multiple polyphonic voices that interact so effectively here are not impeded by having to compete with each other or with the instrumentalists. Everything is in perfect proportion here... What an attractive program this is!... Curiously, there is no contemporary account of any performance of this very attractive work [Missa Sancta Maria Magdalena by Giovanni Felice Sances]. May this recording amply recompense Sances for his historical neglect!”
Phil Muse, Audio Society of Atlanta [July 2016]
Watch the video "Making Sacred Music" here.

One can hardly think of Music in Rome without immediately being drawn to the work of the Sistine Chapel, an institution well-known for maintaining a philosophy for the “pure” performance of vocal music without instruments. The Papal choir was revered throughout Europe during the Renaissance period for authoritative expertise and performance capabilities with regard to Gregorian chant and polyphonic choral music. But the decades surrounding the turn of the 17th century brought many exciting and creative developments in the composition and performance of sacred music, leading to the advent of what we now call the Baroque period.

Alongside the influential conservative practices of the Sistine Chapel, there was another creative force at work in Rome during this time. The Collegio Germanico — the Vatican’s center for training German-speaking Roman Catholic priests — became one of the most famous music institutions in Europe. Though the primary goal of the seminary was rooted in the training of clergy, a sequence of significant music directors led to the dramatic growth of the music program’s reputation. In 1574, the college relocated to the Palazzi di Sant’Apollinare in Rome where they also gained leadership of the adjoining Sant’Apollinare church. When they aligned with this church there became an obvious increase in their desire to heighten the role of music in worship. In 1575, the famous Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria took over as the maestro di cappella (choirmaster) at the Collegio Germanico. Victoria had come to Rome in 1565 as a paying student and was first employed as a singer and organist, but took up the choirmaster post in 1575 after his ordination to the priesthood. From here forward, especially the next 100 years, this position would become one of the most prestigious music positions in all of Rome.

The splendour and majesty of the worship services as well as the music executed by the students under the Spaniard Tomás Luis de Victoria, as well as his successor Annibale Stabile and other celebrated masters (Annibale Orgas, Lorenzo Ratti, Giacomo Carissimi, Ottavio Pitoni, and others) consistently drew large crowds to the church.

The scope of this recording traces the evolution of musical trends at the Collegio Germanico and the manner by which they began to permeate sacred music across Europe. From Gregorian chant to Renaissance polyphony to grand-scale masterworks and intimate sacred duets, this repertoire illuminates the breathtaking depth of creativity born during this golden age of church music.

Brian Schmidt is a choral conductor at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, where he serves as conductor of the Duke Vespers Ensemble and Duke Divinity School Choir. He is also the Artistic Director of the South Dakota Chorale, a professional chorus in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. As founder and Artistic Director of the SDC, he manages a roster of professional singers from around the United States. Schmidt’s leadership has guided the ensemble to rapid growth and recognition, as well as the release of several recordings in collaboration with Grammy award-winning producer Blanton Alspaugh. He received an invitation to conduct the SDC at the 2015 American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) national conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. Schmidt was selected by ACDA to represent the United States in the International Conductor Exchange Program with Sweden, resulting in study and guest conducting opportunities there in 2015. He was previously the founder and Artistic Director of the Dakota Men’s Ensemble, which also appeared at regional, state and national ACDA conventions. Schmidt graduated from the University of North Texas, where he completed MM and DMA degrees under Jerry McCoy and Richard Sparks, and early music studies under Lyle Nordstrom and Lenora McCroskey.

The Duke Vespers Ensemble is a chamber choir based at Duke University Chapel in Durham, North Carolina. Consisting of members from the Duke and Triangle communities, the choir leads candlelit worship services every Thursday of the academic year and also participates in special services throughout the year, including one on All-Hallows Eve. Outside of their weekly Vespers services, the ensemble presents primarily early music concerts ranging from Baroque masterworks with period instruments to various Renaissance Mass and Requiem settings. They have also performed at the Boston Early Music Festival in 2013 and 2015.

The Mallarmé Chamber Players are a flexible ensemble of professional musicians based in Durham, North Carolina. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Suzanne Rousso, the ensemble distinguishes itself through innovative educational programs, a strong commitment to creative collaboration, the commissioning of new works and a dedication to serving a diverse population. Created in 1984 by musicians Jane Hawkins and Anna Ludwig Wilson working with poet and arts administrator Margaret DeMott, the ensemble’s name comes from Stéphane Mallarmé, the 19th-century French poet and philosopher who believed that art is created only through a unity of music, dance, literature and the visual arts. In keeping with their namesake, Mallarmé performances are often interdisciplinary and have been praised by critics and audiences as innovative, eclectic and expert. [ www.mallarmemusic.org ]

Considered one of the premier ensembles of its kind, the Washington Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble (WCSE), directed by Michael Holmes, consists of historic brass instrument specialists based in Washington D.C. Assemblages of cornets, curved hybrid brass-woodwind instruments, and sackbuts, early trombones, comprised what was the standard brass ensemble of the late Renaissance and early Baroque eras. With a large and growing membership, WCSE performs extensively in the Eastern United States with prominent historic vocal and instrumental groups and events of the Early Music community, including the Historic Brass Society Festival at Yale University. Having a large repertoire, the group explores the full range of music from every period and region where early brass sources were represented, including music from the major European music centers and courts, as well as from the Americas. Highly active in recording, they can be heard performing works by Frescobaldi, Gabrieli, Marenzio, Monteverdi, Schütz and Ugolini. Their recording of a canzona by Claudio Merulo was circulated widely to North American universities as an accompaniment to Craig Wright and Brian Simms’s Music in Western Civilization textbook.
[ www.earlybrassdc.org ]
PLAINCHANT (Psalm 70:2)
Deus in Adjutorium Meum Intende

Dixit Dominus (Psalm 110)

Ave Regina Caelorum (A8)
Salve Regina (A5)

O Dulcissimum Mariae Nomen

Missa Sancta Maria Magdalenae

Alma Redemptoris Mater

Ave Maris Stella
Vulnerasti Cor Meum

Regina Caeli (A8)

MSR Classics