I would be unhesitatingly nominating this disc of ten choral motets by the 17th century Roman composer Alessandro Melani for a CD of the month spot if they were not already taken. A close contemporary of such composers as Charpentier, d’Anglebert, Biber, Buxtehude, Locke and Humfrey, his music, at least in these convincing performances by Rinaldo Alessandrini’s Concerto Italiano, has a broad emotional range, and real originality. The author of the liner notes quotes the musicologist Jean Lionnet as regarding the music as being of “the highest quality”, and I do not think any listener would argue with that. Opening the disc is Melani’s Litanie per la beata vergine, and it is among the most beguilingly attractive music I have heard in a long time—harmonically and melodically memorable, sonorously voiced, and ravishingly beautiful. The mood is sutained for a full eleven minutes, an extended cry of sadness which manages to be simultaneously intensely personal in feel and grandly sombre. The vocal ensemble for the CD consist of nine solo voices, and all nine are used in the Litanie. The remainder of the disc uses various combinations of the singers in the motets, from a duet and trios to a closing octet: a wonderful Magnificat. The musical material varies from dense and effective counterpoint to advanced-sounding chordal homophony. Not all the music is as solemn as the Litanie, the de Necessitatibus and Laudate Pueri motets are positively buoyant in mood, while retaining the prevalent minor mode that gives all the motets a grave dignity.
The singing is beyond reproach; although all nine singers are convincing as soloists, when they perform as a choir their blend is rich, sonorous, and balanced. Alessandrini’s organ playing catches exactly the right combination of solid backing and unobtrusiveness. Occasionally one catches the sound of the two theorbos providing a discreet but solid enrichment to the continuo. I have rarely enjoyed a disc of music by an unfamiliar composer as much as this one, and I would exhort anyone with an interest in 17th century music to seek it out—but any adventurous listener is also going to find this an irresistible gem.