Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, born in Venice to German parents, spent most of his life in Rome and rose to the top of the lavish musical establishment maintained by Pope Urban VIII and his family, the Barberinis. His music has been little performed, so this disc by the German group Echo du Danube is welcome. I Pastori di Bettelemme (The Shepherds of Bethlehem) was composed in 1630. It is a Christmas work, artfully weaving the pastoral themes of early opera with original religious poetry. You might think of it as a larger and more variegated version of the sacred madrigals that began to arise after the birth of opera earlier in the century, or as a smaller, incipient oratorio. Sometimes this type of work is referred to as a sacred dialogue. There are monodic declamatory sections, some of them coalescing into more rhythmic statements, instrumental sections designated as toccatas (which here just means "played pieces"), and choruses that are part of the action. The young German singers here are all fine, but what makes the performance work is the group's overall enthusiastic realization. Kapsberger's score does not specify the continuo instrumentation except for a "sordellina," a small tambourine, and Echo du Danube's active group of harps, viols, and lutes, with organ and recorder, makes the music come alive. This is recommended for those who enjoy the music of, say, Carissimi, and want to learn more about its origins.
Giovanni Girolamo Kapsperger: I Pastori de Bettelemme
Echo du Danube
Giovanni Girolamo Kapsperger: I Pastori de Bettelemme Review
by James Manheim