An Adriatic Voyage

An Adriatic Voyage
The Illyria Consort and The Marian Consort

Bojan Čičić, Rory McCleery, directors
London Festival of Baroque Music

St John’s Smith Square. 15 May 2022

CD: Adriatic Voyage
Seventeenth-century music from Venice to Dalmatia
Delphian DCD 34260. 58’26

Music by Francesco Sponga (aka Usper), Gabriel Spona, Gabrielo Puliti,
Vicenz Jelić, Julije Skovelić, Ivan Lukačić, and Thomasso Cecchini.

It is not often that I review a concert where only one of the composers seemed familiar, and that one confused me with a different version of his name. This excellent concert (and the extended CD version) was inspired by the record of a 1575 journey by the Venetian diplomat and naval commander Giacomo Soranzo as he set sail from Venice to Constantinople. As they sailed down the Istrian coast, (present-day Croatia) they called in at various port cities, most of which were within the territory of the Venetians and subject to the continual movement of trade and people bringing different influences to the varied local culture. The concert is by composers who lived on the Dalmatian coast in the years after Soranzo’s expedition.

The Croatian violinist Bojan Čičić founded the Illyria Consort to explore the musical heritage of the Venetian Republic and the Habsburg Empire, both major historic influences on modern Croatia. He worked with Rory McCleery of the Marian Consort and Professor Bojan Bujić to explore the musical heritage of the coastal region south of Venice. Although the programme notes for the concert were minimal, Professor Bujić’s extensive essay with the CD is well worth a read and added much to my understanding of the music and composers.

Although Soranzo’s journey was in 1575, the music comes from publications dating from 1620 to 1628 when a periodic diversion from the Ottoman threat allowed something of an artistic flourish in the Adriatic. The composers represented were born on the Dalmation coast but, as most of that coastline was part of the Venetian Republic, they often furthered their musical activities in Italy.

The programme moved, musically, from north to south along the coastline. The music provided a well-planned sequence of the varying musical styles that developed along the Dalmation coast, reflecting local cultural history as well as the obvious Venetian influence. The performance was outstanding, with notable instrumental contributions from Bojan Čičić, violin, Helen Roberts, cornetto and Steven Devine, organ. The two principal instrumental pieces (Sponha’s Sonata a 3 per doi Soprani, and Cecchini’s three Sonatas) showed the influence of what became known as the stylus phantasticus – multisectional music with rapid changes of mood and texture. Rognoni’s diminutions on Palestrina’s Vestiva i colli showed how instrumental music developed, like organ music some decades earlier, from various patterns of decorative passage work based on an existing choral work.

The five singers of the Marian Consort made a beautifully coordinated chorus, as well as all the individuals having solo moments, key of which was Rory McCleery’s expressive singing of Gabriello Puliti’s Donna ingrata sopra l’aria di Ruggiero. The following Bone Jesu by Vicenz Jelić was a particularly lively example of the sacred music of the time, as was the concluding Surge propera by Thomasso Cecchini. Ivan Lukačić’s setting of another Song of Songs text, Quam pulchra es was another impressive piece.

For the concert performance, the Illyria Consort consisted of five people. Perhaps inevitably, the related CD featured double the number of instrumental forces, with the addition of a tenor cornetto, tenor viola, two sackbuts, a dulcian, and a bass violin, but excluding a harp. These additional sounds add considerably to the sound and make the CD a must buy. The programme is more or less the same as the concert, with the addition on the CD of a dramatic concluding Battaglia per sonar a cantar a 8 by Francesco Sponga/ Usper. If you missed the live concert, the CD is well worth a listen.