- Salve regina, motet
- Magnificat for 8 voices
Italian conductor Rinaldo Alessandrini, having revolutionized the performance of Italian Baroque instrumental music, has been doing the same with sacred music. His efforts and those of his Concerto Italiano ensemble in this case have been a bit more oriented toward the discovery of obscure material than in the instrumental realm, where his high-octane readings made you hear familiar Vivaldi pieces in a whole new way. Here he focuses on antiphonal choral music, most of it from late 17th-century Rome; the inclusion of Stravinsky's "Ave Maria" at the end is a nice try, but despite its neo-Baroque idiom it breaks the mood. Many of these Magnificats and Salve Regina settings were written for small chapels, and the mostly one-to-a-part choir (11 singers in all) works fine; more imposing forces would also be possible, but Alessandrini's technique is to extract maximum expressiveness from the interplay between the dual choirs in these six-, eight-, and nine-voice pieces, accompanied only by organ and theorbo, and this is more effective with a small group. The best news here is the rediscovery of an unknown masterwork: the "Salve Regina a 9 voci" of Alessandro Melani (1639-1703), whose music Alessandrini has covered in more depth on another release. This work opens with an absolutely bewitching long, sinuous line for soprano solo, intersecting later in the work with the two four-voice choirs. The large Magnificats by Pietro Paolo Bencini and Padre Antonio Soler also have a fascinating combination of gravity and intimacy here, and even listeners unfamiliar with the polychoral tradition of the 17th century (extending well into the 18th in Soler's case) will find variety and dramatic interest in Alessandrini's presentation. Strongly recommended, and sample the Melani (track 11); the first couple minutes will amaze you.