Croce: Motetti & Sacrae Cantiones
Voces Suaves, Concerto Scirocco
Arcana A439. 52’19
Giovanni Croce (also known as Il Chiozzotto) was a choirboy in St Mark’s Venice under Zarlino, eventually becoming maestro di cappella around six years before his death in 1609, four years before Monteverdi took up the same post. He was also connected to Santa Maria Formosa, possible as a priest as well as a singer. Although renowned in his own day, he has been overshadowed by his most illustrious predecessors and successors. His music is not as grand as the Gabrielli’s, or a refined as Monteverdi, although the influence of the former is clear, notably in his polychoral writing.
One of the joys of this recording is the choice of venue – not Venice, but the Basilica di Santa Barbara in Mantua with its important 1565 Antegnati organ, here used in both accompaniment and solo role. Croce’s music collections make specific reference to the continuo Basso per sonare nell’organo, so the use of the organ was clearly important to him – and a full-sized Italian church organ, rather than the weedy little box organs so often used today. Santa Barbara has opposing galleries, ideally suiting the double choir repertoire on this recording. The recording is quite closely focussed, bringing out some action noise in the organ solo.
The ten singers of Voces Suaves are forthright and direct in their delivery, although the vibrato of some (including at least one of the two sopranos) does occasionally interfere with the consort sound. the programme notes include text translations in French, German, Italian and English and full details of the instruments and singers of each piece., and their arrangements in two choirs. Many of the pieces are accompanied by the seven instrumentalists of Concerto Scirocco doubling the voices, making for a rich and sumptuous sound in the generous acoustic. They also excel in the solo pieces. Virgo Decus Nemorum includes echo effects between the two choirs, with the second position at the far end of the church, to good effect. The director of Voces Suaves, Francesco Saverio Pedrini plays the organ
Although it is best not to think of the Gabrielli’s or Monteverdi when listening to Croce, he is a composer worth getting to know.