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Ever since discovering a gorgeous soprano motet by Alessandro Grandi (c. 1586 – 1630) many years ago, I’ve been on the lookout for more of his music. His solo setting of O quam tu pulchra es (from the Song of Solomon) appears from time to time on compilations - Carolyn Sampson performs it on her exquisite disc of lute songs with Matthew Wadsworth. However, this new disc on the Carus label is the first devoted entirely to Grandi’s music and is something of a revelation. Much of it could be mistaken for Monteverdi - hardly surprising, as Grandi worked for seven years at St Mark’s, Venice as Monteverdi’s assistant. He then became maestro di cappella at Bergamo’s Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore until he died of the plague in 1630. While Grandi did not actually publish a complete body of work entitled Vespers for the Blessed Virgin, the musicologist Rudolf Ewerhart has compiled material from various collections to create such a Vesper. It ranges from large-scale music for choir, vocal ensemble and orchestra to movements for one or two voices with continuo, and receives its first recording here. The soloists, steeped in baroque performance experience, are lively and persuasive advocates for Grandi’s music, and there is much florid ornamentation to enjoy in the singing
and the instrumental playing. The choral singing is crisp and polished, and Matthew Halls proves an exceptional guide throughout, especially in the sections where choral singing alternates with ensemble music. From the delicate music of Ave Maris Stella to the grandeur of the closing Magnificat the performance delights. Although his music was obviously influenced by Monteverdi and Gabrieli, Grandi was also innovative, especially in his use of two or three solo voices in motets and his development of the concertato style. It is easy to see why Grandi was one of the most popular composers of his day, and I recommend this disc without hesitation to lovers of music from this period.
Reviewed by Anne McAlister