Dreyer sacred 96405

Giovanni Filippo Maria Dreyer (1703-1772)
Sacred Music
Verbum caro a due soprani
Domine ad adjuvandum a 4 con Gloria a canto solo
Inno a 4 voci per San Filippo
Salmi Brevi à 4 voci con Strumenti
Rossana Bertini, Elena Cecchi Fedi (soprano)
Le Tems Revient, Baroque Lumina/Giacomo Benedetti
rec. 2021, S. Giorgio e Spirito Santo alla Costa, Florence, Italy

The name Dreyer may ring a bell with some lovers of organ music. Now and then his name appears on the programmes of organists, but then we are talking about Johann Melchior Dreyer (1747-1824). The disc under review here is devoted to music by Giovanni Filippo Maria Dreyer, who was born in Florence. However, his family name suggests that he was of German origin, and that is confirmed by his nickname, ‘il tedeschino’ – the little German. Both have an entry in New Grove, but whether they were related in any way remains unclear.

Dreyer was born into a family of musicians, and at a young age he was notable for his beautiful voice, which made his parents decide to have him castrated. It allowed him to enjoy success as an opera singer in theatres across Italy. In 1723 he participated in the premiere of Vivaldi’s opera Ercole su’l Termodonte in Rome. For some time he worked in Breslau (today Wroclaw, Poland), not only as a singer, but also as a composer and impresario. He was then invited to enter the service of tsarina Iovanovna in St Petersburg, together with his brother, who was an oboist. Several times they travelled to Italy to collect new talents, but on one of his journeys (in 1735) an incident of unknown nature during a stay in Prague made him return to Florence for good. Two years later he was admitted to the convent of the Servants of Mary of SS. Annunziata. There he was appointed maestro di cappella in 1738. At the age of 66, he started to suffer from illnesses, and his duties were occasionally taken over by Bartolomeo Cherubini, the father of Luigi.

Dreyer’s musical heritage has suffered from a flood which destroyed many musical manuscripts. It has taken much effort to save as many as possible. In the booklet, Giacomo Granchi, leader of Baroque Lumina and responsible for the research that has resulted in this recording, describes the search for the restoration of Dreyer’s music and his revival as a composer. This production is undoubtedly a work of love.

The booklet does not list what has come down to us, and in the entry in New Grove a work-list is omitted. Therefore I don’t know whether what is on offer here is representative of Dreyer’s extant output. A thorough assessment of his oeuvre is also made rather difficult because of a lack of lyrics to the present disc. According to the booklet they should be available for download from the Brilliant Classics site, but I did not find them.

The programme opens with Verbum caro, as short motet in two sections for two sopranos, where Dreyer cleverly explores the harmonic possibilities of this scoring. It is followed by a setting of the response Domine ad adiuvandum, to which is added a Gloria. It is scored for four voices and basso continuo and written in the stile antico; the second section is a solo for soprano. The Inno a 4 per San Filippo is dedicated to Filippo Benizi, a religious of the Order of the Servants of Mary (OSM), proclaimed saint in 1671. The opening and closing sections are for alto and choir, the second is for soprano, and the third for choir, all accompanied by strings and basso continuo.

The largest part of the programme is taken by a collection of Vesper Psalms, the Salmi Brevi a 4 voci con Strumenti, which date from 1740. They have never been published because the rules of the congregation forbade the diffusion of music outside the church for which it was written. These psalm settings are rather short indeed: the first, Domine, takes just 1:21, whereas the closing Magnificat is the longest piece, at 5:11. Their shortness and relative technical modesty may be inspired by pedagogical purposes. In these settings passages for tutti and for solo voice(s) alternate. They are written in the then common galant idiom, which we know from much music by Neapolitan composers. Their brevity does not leave much room for text illustration, but these pieces are very well-written and enjoyable. It is especially this set of Psalm settings that makes me curious for other parts of Dreyer’s oeuvre.

The positive impression this disc is leaving is also due to the performances. With Rossana Bertini and Elena Cecchi Fedi, Giacomo Benedetti has engaged two seasoned performers of early music. However, their role is limited. The vocal ensemble Le Tems Revient plays the main role here. It was founded in 2017 by amateurs and singing students with the aim of performing renaissance and baroque music. It consists here of eight very fine voices. Not only is the ensemble very good, the members also deliver excellent performances of the solo passages. The instrumental ensemble – recently founded – is the perfect partner of the singers.

This disc is well worth being investigated. I hope that more of Dreyer’s oeuvre will be made available on disc in the near future. I also look forward to further projects by these fine ensembles.

Johan van Veen

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