Rossi: The Songs of Solomon Vol. 2:Holiday and Festive Music

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COMPOSERS: Rossi
LABELS: PGM
WORKS: The Songs of Solomon Vol. 2:Holiday and Festive Music
PERFORMER: New York Baroque/Eric Milnes
CATALOGUE NO: 113
The title is a touch misleading, for this disc is not of any setting of that voluptuous Old Testament text, but rather a wordplay on the name of Salamone Rossi, Jewish composer at the ducal court of Mantua until the cruel mass expulsion of those of the faith by Ferdinando II in 1630, and a highly influential figure in the development of the trio sonata. But it’s a title that, in its Hebrew form, was his own, and is a collection of polyphonic settings of Hebrew psalms, hymns and songs. They are relatively sober pieces compared with those of Monteverdi, or indeed with Rossi’s madrigals and instrumental pieces. They show no influences from what we think of as traditional Jewish music, but are couched in the same general terms as Christian polyphony from the same period, the cusp of Renaissance and Baroque.

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This is the second volume of Rossi’s music to have come from the American company PGM (the first, The Songs of Solomon, Vol. 1: Music for the Sabbath, PGM 108). The performers, New York Baroque – eight singers, a continuo organ player and Eric Milnes, the group’s director – give intimate, refined performances, evoking the same flavour of secrecy that is often projected onto underground music such as Byrd’s (Catholic) Masses, and with distinctly limited dynamic or tempo variations. It works, aside from the odd snatched phrase ending, but a grander style such as that more normally deployed in performances of Gabrieli these days would suit the music equally well and perhaps, together with a little more judiciously applied ornamentation, sell its undoubted qualities a touch more convincingly. Stephen Pettitt