Benedetto Marcello: Psalms


VOCES8 and Les Inventions shine a light on a hidden musical treasure in these world-premiere recordings of Charles Avison’s 1757 adaptation of Benedetto Marcello’s Estro-poetico armonico. A fresh and original collection, Marcello’s Psalm settings were composed in Venice and quickly found fame across Europe after their publication between 1724 and 1726


What people are saying

"4* – With their vivid word-setting and lively declamation, the English texts give a slightly homespun quality to the enterprise. Well sung, there’s a striking triple canon with Latin text to finish." The Observer, September 2015

"4* – Marcello’s masterpiece receives…world premiere recording here by VOCES8, accompanied by the organ, recorder and strings of French early-music ensemble Les Inventions." The Independent, September 2015

" very polished." BBC Radio 3 CD Review, September 2015

" This is a lovely disc and a delightful discovery. These works certainly deserve to be better known and what better way to get to know them via these wonderfully fresh performances." Planet Hugill, October 2015

"A nice variety of vocal colours and a lovely blend make for a convincing representation of Marcello’s largely unknown masterpiece Estro poetico-armonico. More please." Early Music Review, November 2015

"5* – The results are wholly delightful and absorbing, and the intimate forces of VOCES8 and Les Inventions are completely at home in this repertoire." Choir & Organ, November 2015

"This disc underlines the quality of Marcello’s compositions…fascinating and compelling." Music Web International, November 2015

Release date:28th Aug 2015
Order code:SIGCD391
Barcode: 635212039120

A delightful discovery, Marcello’s settings of the psalms in a lovely new disc from Voces8

Who knew that these delightful works existed? Benedetto Marcello’s psalms, Estro poetico-armonico are settings of the first fifty Psalms of David in Italian paraphrases. This disc on Signum Classics label from Voces8 and Les Inventions contains four psalms in English made by the 18th century English composer Charles Avison, Psalm 11, Psalm 32, Psalm 50 and Psalm 46 along with Marcello’s Ciaccona from Sonata Op.2 No.12 and Canon Triplex.

Benedetto Marcello was a Venetian born composer, from a respected family so that he combined career in law with one in music, studying with both Lotti and Gasparini. His Estro poetico-armonico was published in 1724 to 1726, setting the first 50 psalms in paraphrases by Girolamo Ascanio Giustiniani. The psalms were immediately extremely popular, and were translated into a wide number of languages. Venice had the oldest Sephardic community in Italy, and Marcello’s music seems to include sections based on Hebrew psalmody. In fact, Marcello’s psalms were used in a wide variety of religious traditions including Lutheran, Anglican and Jewish.

The psalms were published with a simple figured bass with no indications of instrumentation, so for variety and flexibility, this disc uses harp, theorbo, organ, cello and double bass, and occasionally there is an obligato instrument.

The Newcastle born and based composer Charles Avison and his Durham based colleague John Garth published their English version of Marcello’s psalms in 1757 and Avison wrote in his introduction that ‘they will be considered as proper performances for the service of our Cahedrals, for which Purpose chiefly they are adapted into English’. I am not sure whether this would be true nowadays as the psalms are all very substantial pieces, on this disc lasting between 9 minutes and 17 minutes each. What is impressive is that, though Marcello has set verse paraphrases the settings are not strophic and the music follows the emotional details of the texts.

This means that the music is more varied and more chorally interesting than something like a 17th century Verse Anthem. Some sections are extremely varied and highly detailed in their textures, whereas others include long structured sections such as Psalm 32 with its Blessed is the man over a long ground bass, but others are truly quicksilver. There is an appealing artlessness and directness of expression in this music, but it is certainly by no means simple or simplistic.

The writing is quite madrigalian and different psalms use different choral forces, alongside the soloists. In the performances there is a fine match between the work and the vocalism with Voces8’s highly polished very solo-based ensemble (a style that I feel has not always matched their repertoire in the past) working well. As we would expect from this group, the vocal performances are very polished with fine diction (you don’t need the words, which are however printed in the CD booklet). Les Inventions provide fine support.

The instrumentalists get to show their paces on their own with the Ciaccona from Marcello’s sonata, which is a lovely dancey piece. The disc concludes with the wonderfully rich six-part canon which comes at the end of Marcello’s Estro poetico-armonico.

This is a lovely disc and a delightful discovery. These works certainly deserve to be better known and what better way to get to know them via these wonderfully fresh performances.

Robert Hugill – Planet Hugill

  1. Estro poetico-armonico: Psalm 11: In the Lord My God Put I My Trust (Arr. Charles Avison) – Benedetto Marcello – 9:07
  2. Estro poetico-armonico: Psalm 32: Blessed is He Whose Wickedness is Forgiven (Arr. Charles Avison) – Benedetto Marcello – 17:06
  3. Sonata No. 12, Op. 2: Ciaccona – Benedetto Marcello – 4:16
  4. Estro poetico-armonico: Psalm 50: The Lord Jehovah, Even The Most Mighty God, Hath Spoken (Arr. Charles Avison) – Benedetto Marcello – 16:01
  5. Estro poetico-armonico: Psalm 46: God is Our Refuge and Our Strength (Arr. Charles Avison) – Benedetto Marcello – 9:00
  6. Canon Triplex: In omnem terram exivit sonus eorum – Benedetto Marcello – 4:25