Saturday, 30 November 2013

Gabrieli - Sacrae Symphoniae

Giovanni Gabrieli - Sacrae Symphoniae - ACC24282
On this new disc from the Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam and the instrumental ensemble Oltremontano, directed by Wim Becu, is a selection of motets and instrumental pieces from Giovanni Gabrieli's Sacrae Symphoniae of 1597. The collection, originally printed by the Venetian publisher Gardano, comprised 45 motets and 16 instrumental pieces (canzonas and sonatas). We are treated to five canzonas, one sonata and ten motets in performances which are performed by a flexible mixture of performers taken from the seven voices of the Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam, and the 15 performers of Oltremontano (violin, viola, cornetts and sackbuts); the ensemble has a preponderance of sackbuts.

Even Gabrieli's motets were intended to have a mixture of instrumental and vocal performers, with a degree of flexibility being possible. Though all the parts were often given texts, the expectation was that in the larger pieces the very upper part would be played on a cornett and the very lower one on a sackbut. Here, the ensemble give us a fine variety of scorings.


The motets are essentially extra-liturgical pieces for use in the offertory, the elevation or post-communion, or for Vespers. On grand occasions extra musicians were hired (14 additional instrumentalists for Christmas 1602), the majority being cornett and sackbut players (In the CD booklet the writer refers to the cornett as a zink, which had me scuttling to Wikipedia).

The purely instrumental canzonas and sonatas were also intended for liturgical use, though Gabrieli's style does ensure that the pieces clearly exist in a different sound world, as he uses different constructions and forms. All the instrumental pieces on the disc are large scale, being for double choir.

Only two of the motets are for double choir, Deus qui beatum Marcam and Maria Virgo and in both of these cornett, sackbut and voice mix with sackbuts doubling voices on some lines in Maria Virgo. The biggest vocal item is the finale motet, Hic est filius Dei which is written for three five-part choirs totalling 21 performers. I have sung a number of Gabrieli's motets, including Deus qui beatum Marcam in purely vocal performances with a chamber choir, and the results are always satisfactory. But the pieces work best when, as here, you have a small number of vocal soloists combined with instrumental players.

The voices are straight, with low-vibrato which lends them a rather plangent quality which blends well with the instruments, but perhaps will not appeal to everyone. These are not choral discs in the conventional sense. The rather particular sound world is apparent from the first motet, Deus qui beatum Marcum where the dazzling top soprano line is taken to brilliant effect by the cornett; in this motet choir one is made up of two singers, three instrumentalists plus organ.

At times, I have to confess that I found the vocal contributions a bit discreet; given that they are using solo voices, by and large, I could have done with a little more bravura show. But the results are still finely judged. The singers are complemented with some very fine instrumental playing. In many ways this feels like an instrumental recital with added voices, but that is what this music was often designed for.

In the motets performed by singers alone, such as Cantate Domino and Miserere mei Deus we get to hear the real quality of the singers and the expressively plangent quality of their vocal ensemble. In Sancta Maria succure miseris, each voice is doubled by an instrument, to interesting effect creating some fascinating musical textures. And in the 7-part Exaudi Deus the lowest two parts are played by sackbuts, with the upper four sung, to rather magical effect.

The disc includes an excellent article on Gabrieli's music in English, but rather frustratingly the texts are only printed in the original Latin and in German translations. The booklet doesn't seem to tell you exactly what was published in the original Sacrae Symphoniae nor is there an explanation for the selection of the items.

This is a window into a different world, one where a choir meant a rather different thing to nowadays. Gabriel's Sacrae Symphoniae provide scope for a variety of interpretations and version, but this new disc gives us performances that Gabrieli might have recognised.

Giovanni Gabrieli (c1554/7 - 1612) - Deus qui beatum Marcum [2.32]
Giovanni Gabrieli (c1554/7 - 1612) - Canzon primi toni [3.49]
Giovanni Gabrieli (c1554/7 - 1612) - Cantate Domino [1.33]
Giovanni Gabrieli (c1554/7 - 1612) - Sonata pian e forte [4.24]
Giovanni Gabrieli (c1554/7 - 1612) - Miserere mei Deus [4.05]
Giovanni Gabrieli (c1554/7 - 1612) - Sancata Maria succure miseris [5.16]
Giovanni Gabrieli (c1554/7 - 1612) - Exaudi Deus [3.33]
Giovanni Gabrieli (c1554/7 - 1612) - Canzon VIII [3.50]
Giovanni Gabrieli (c1554/7 - 1612) - Canzon duodecimi toni [4.42]
Giovanni Gabrieli (c1554/7 - 1612) - Beata es Virgo Maria [3.27]
Giovanni Gabrieli (c1554/7 - 1612) - Sancta et immaculate verginitatis [3.16]
Giovanni Gabrieli (c1554/7 - 1612) - Maria Virgo [4.11]
Giovanni Gabrieli (c1554/7 - 1612) - Canzon in echo duodecimi toni [4.34]
Giovanni Gabrieli (c1554/7 - 1612) - Surrexit Christus [3.48]
Giovanni Gabrieli (c1554/7 - 1612) - Canzon IX fa, sol, la, re [3.03]
Giovanni Gabrieli (c1554/7 - 1612) - Hic est filius Dei [5.31]

Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam (Nele Gamss, Ulrike Hofbauer, Marnix de Cat, Volker Arndt, Harry van Berne, Julian Podger, Harry van der Kamp)
Oltremontano (Swantje Hoffmann, An Van Laethem, Doron David Sherwin, Adrien Mabire, Anna Schall, Harry Ries, Robert Schlegl, Adam Wolf, Adam Bregman, Guy Haanssen, Bart Vroomen, Fabien Moulaert, Kirs Verhelst, Ben Van Nespen)
Wim Becu (director)
Recorded 14-17 December 2013 at Trinitatiskirche, Cologne
ACCENT ACC24282 1CD [61.32]

Giovanni Gabrieli - Sacrae Symphoniae; Oltremontano/Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam/Wim Becu
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 13 2013
Rating: 4.0
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