Willaert: Vespro di natale

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COMPOSERS: Willaert
LABELS: Stradivarius
WORKS: Vespro di natale
PERFORMER: Paolo Costa, Giovanni Caccamo, Marco Scavazza, Marcello Vargetto; I Piccoli Musici, Delitiae Musicae/Marco Longhini
CATALOGUE NO: STR 33373
Those in the know have always recognised Adrian Willaert (d1562) as the founder of the glorious tradition of Venetian music. But his enormous output has received little attention from recording companies. In the Seventies, Joshua Rifkin devoted a disc to his motets on the Nonesuch label, and a few isolated examples have appeared more recently (notably in a collection on Eufoda – reviewed April 1998). These two recent discs, however, finally draw him out from the shadows of history.

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The Marco Longhini issue is part of a project to record Willaert’s complete works. It brings together several sacred pieces in a reconstructed Christmas Vespers which emphasises ceremonial over careful musical observation. These pieces were recorded in Verona, in rich, juicy acoustics which support well some fine bass singing (in Memento Domine David) and organ playing (in a piece by Andrea Gabrieli), though they cannot disguise the rather messy ensemble. By contrast, the cool unaccompanied clarity of the Oxford Camerata is magisterial (in the Magnificat), urgently motivated (in the ‘Christ rising’ motet by Richafort) and meditative (in the lovely Agnus of the Mass). The Magnificat appears on both discs, though it is scarcely recognisable as the same piece, with Longhini’s instrumentalists obscuring, rather than revealing, the ingenious interplay of voices for which Willaert was so famous. Anthony Pryer