“Viva Italia: Sacred Music in 17th Century Rome” – Duke Vespers Ens., Mallarmé Ch. Players, Washington Cornett & Sackbut Ens./ Brian Schmidt – MSR Classics

“Viva Italia: Sacred Music in 17th Century Rome” – GIOVANNI FELICE SANCES: Missa Sancta Maria Magdalenae and music by CARISSIMI, CHARPENTIER, PALESTRINA & VICTORIA – Duke Vespers Ens., Mallarmé Ch. Players, Washington Cornett & Sackbut Ens./ Brian Schmidt – MSR Classics MS 1580, 58:28 (4/13/16) *****:

A terrific concert of vocal music from Rome.

Recorded live in concert in April 2015, Durham’s excellent Duke Vespers Ensemble, with the help of equally accomplished colleagues, show a healthy bright-eyed enthusiasm and vocal splendor in music by Carissimi, Charpentier, Palestrina, Victoria and the always intriguing Giovanni Felice Sances, whose Missa Sancta Maria Magdalenae provides a thrilling world premiere.

Born in Rome and subsequently a composer and tenor, Sances moved to the Hapsburg court in Austria where he served for more than 40 years, eventually rising to Master of the Imperial Chapel. His large-scale Mass, with its seven voices, six strings, two cornetti and four trombones, is a grand affair appropriate to only the second North American performance and the first recording.

The easy expertise and wide knowledge of the musicians plus their roots in the Duke and Triangle communities, allows them to respond authentically for their listeners, as Sances did for his, and as opposed to HIP autocracies. And while the Ensemble consists of members from the community, presenting primarily early music concerts, they performed at the Boston Early Music Festival in 2013 and 2015.

Their colleagues are more than collegial. Both the Washington Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble, a six-member collective of historic brass instrument specialists based in the nation’s capital, and the Durham-based Mallarmé Chamber Players play with authoritative style, splendid energy and first-class chops. Recorded live in concert at the Duke University Chapel where the Vespers Ensemble is based, the sound is equally healthy, bright and clear.

—Laurence Vittes

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