Ferdinando Bertoni: Sacred Choral Works
This disc of sacred pieces by Ferdinando Bertoni takes us down paths hitherto barely if at all trodden by recording companies. Bertoni was contemporary with composers like Haydn and J. C. Bach and was active into the early nineteenth century. During the 1740s he studied in Bologna under the great teacher, composer and writer, G. B. Martini who was later to number J. C. Bach, Gretry and Mozart among his pupils. Thereafter, apart from visits to London where he conducted many performances of his own operas between 1778 and 1783, Bertoni spent his active life in and around Venice.
Although known far and wide for his operas, of which there are many, both in the comic and serious genres, Bertoni remained closely identified with the day-to-day musical life of Venice. He was officially associated with the Ospedale dei Mendicanti, one of four charitable institutions for destitute women, as well as St Mark's, Venice where he was first organist, and, from 1785, maestro di cappella in succession to Galuppi. Bertoni's sacred compositions are numerous and varied and include oratorios, Masses, a Requiem, psalms, canticles, motets and antiphons. Many of them were written for the female voices of the Mendicanti and the Miserere for two sopranos, choir and orchestra, included in this release, was frequently performed there. The Veni Creator is similarly scored and laid out whilst the Beatus vir is a single movement for choir and orchestra without solo voices.
Although Venetians undoubtedly admired Bertoni's music, opinions varied further afield. Dr Burney's assessment seems to me to summarize it well: ''Though the invention of this master is not very fertile, his melody is graceful and interesting; and though he never had perhaps sufficient genius and fire to attain the sublime, yet he is constantly natural, correct and judicious; often pleasing, and sometimes happy.'' The three compositions here largely confirm Burney's assessment. Much of the music is very attractive and the orchestrations sometimes colourfully imaginative—brief passages for horns and a capricious violin solo in the opening chorus of Veni Creator provide typical examples. In this work some or all of the initial chorus subsequently serves as a refrain recurring at regular intervals throughout the piece somewhat in the manner employed by Vivaldi in his grander setting of Beatus vir (RV597). The intervening solo movements are variable in interest. Patricia Schuman is the more appealing of the two soloists, not so much on account of her vocal timbre but rather because she has a more appropriate stylistic sense and a very fine technique. Margarita Zimmermann allows herself a degree of freedom which sometimes stands out uncomfortably in the context and does nothing to enhance the music. Her voice is more masked than that of the soprano and I found her performance altogether more unpredictable. Nevertheless, she does capture the spirit of the Miserere in her opening number even though she lacks the necessary discipline. This is the most interesting of the three works by far, with well-contrasted choruses and two particularly delightful arias for soprano, the second of which is outstandingly well sung.
As I have remarked before, Claudio Scimone seems to be far more effective in mid- to late-eighteenth century repertory than in much baroque music that I have heard him direct. I Solisti Veneti are on good form here, bringing a pleasing warmth and lustre to the performances. Latin texts are printed in full in the booklet and the recorded sound is effective. Well worth exploring even though these are certainly not forgotten masterpieces.'