Concerto Italiano

Alessandro Melani: Mottetti

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Alessandro Melani was a Roman composer active in the second half of the 17th century. Perhaps Alessandro Scarlatti heard his music, but since then it has resided in the archives at the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. It was unearthed again by conductor Rinaldo Alessandrini, without any assist from musicological scholarship. The recording doesn't have the punch of Alessandrini's High Baroque or Monteverdi releases, but one can see why Melani's music appealed to him. The 10 motets and liturgical pieces recorded here have, in the words of annotator Luca della Libera (writing about the Magnificat and Salve regina settings of the period, including Melani's here, but equally applicable to the other pieces on the disc), "a mood of intense emotional participation amid a sound world quite foreign to the impersonal solemnity of so many compositions of the same period." The music is quiet; his four-part choral passages don't have the intensity of Monteverdi, and the aria-like passages like the one at the beginning of Laudate pueri (track 6) don't call for virtuoso efforts. But there's an intense effort to reflect the text on Melani's part, using all the styles available to him, and this text-centered compositional approach fits with Alessandrini's own orientation. Most pieces, accompanied by a continuo of organ and theorbo, are between five and ten minutes long, and each falls into several sections; often they begin with a monodic section or declamatory music for a group of soloists, proceeding later into full-blown tunes or a fascinating intermediate stage that would later get the name of arioso, with large, festive choruses at several points. The most variegated piece, the Litanie per la beata vergine (track 1), is also perhaps the most interesting. Nicely recorded at an unspecificed Roman location in 2006. The notes and texts are in French and English. Though less obviously essential than other recordings by Alessandrini and his groundbreaking Concerto Italiano, this nevertheless belongs in good collections of 17th century music.

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