Croce: Notetti & Sacrae Cantiones

Giovanni Croce: Motetti & Sacrae Cantiones
Voces Suaves & Concerto Scirocco
Outhere Music: Arcana A439. 52’19

Giovanni Croce (1557-1609) was a boy chorister in St Mark’s, Venice, becoming maestro di cappella there in 1603, a few years before his death. He was born in Chioggia on the Adriatic near Venice. He took holy orders in 1585, and appears to have been a priest, and possibly director of music, at Santa Maria Formosa while singing at St. Mark’s. His compositions provide a link between the Venetian Renaissance and the musical advances of Monteverdi. His music is constructionally and harmonically simpler than many other Venetian composers of his time, but includes examples of double chorus and echo effects within his rather conservative late Renaissance polyphony.

The Swiss ensembles Voces Suaves and the instrumentalists of Concerto Scirocco recorded this programme in Santa Barbara in Mantua, chosen because of its acoustics and the famous 1565 Antegnati organ. The distinctive Italian ‘vocal’ voicing of the organ’s Principale pipes blend perfectly with the voices and instruments. The sparkling sound of the full organ ripieno is heard in the Toccata del primo tono by Bell’haver. Other organ pieces are Andrea Gabrieli’s Canzon ariosa (combining the sound of a flute stop with the reassuring clickity-clack of the organ’s action) and Merulo’s Toccata Terza, played by Francesco Severio Pedrini. Concerto Scirocco play instrumental pieces by Giovanni Picchi, Giovanni Gabrieli and Giosetto Guami.

The CD includes seven 8-part motets from Croce’s 1594 Motetti a otto vnoci, Libro Primo together with two 5-part motets from the 1605 Sacrae cantiones quinis vocibus concinendae. The musicians are placed in the two organ galleries facing each other or, for the motet Virgo Decus, with an echo choir in the far transept. The double choir motets are arranged with one choir of instruments and singers, the other with just singers. The singing, playing and recording is excellent, with a clarity of texture allowing the fluidity of Croce’s music to shine through.

Although the music is not as dramatic as some music of the period, Croce’s thoughtful compositions are well worth hearing, and the choice of recording venue and organ are added attractions. The booklet gives detailed information about the music, but one slightly irritating feature is that the texts of the vocal pieces are numbered consecutively, rather than by their allocated track number.