Performing a ‘correct’
version of Allegri’s Miserere Mei is a minefield. Most
early versions arose out of illicit transcriptions made in the
18th and 19th centuries. But the tradition
of improvised ornamentation had gradually ossified into the traditional
abbellimenti. Even more complicatedly, an error in transcription
crept in so that the version performed nowadays, with the famous
top ‘C’ is the result of the conflation of two different manuscripts
in two different keys. Ben Byram Wigfield has further details
in his article on the Ancient Groove website.
On this disc, Bernard
Fabre-Garrus and A Sei Voci manage to have their cake and eat
it. They perform the piece in an edition by Jean Lionnet which
reconstructs the version which was known during Allegri’s day.
It also adds 17th century ornamentation, applied
on the basis that in Allegri’s day all the soloists would have
improvised. Having started this recital with a learned reconstruction
of Miserere Mei, A Sei Voci end it with a recording of
the traditional version.
In between they
present Allegri’s six-voice mass “Vidi turbam magnam”.
This mass is an interesting example of the way that composers
were gradually moving from the old polyphony (the stile antico)
to the seconda prattica. Here Allegri writes using more
modern tonalities rather than the old modes, the counterpoint
is restrained and many elements from seconda prattica
are introduced. The mass is one of a number that Allegri wrote
for services in the papal chapel where neither organ or instruments
tend to all be written in the seconda prattica, small
groups of voices with continuo accompaniment. Here A Sei Voci
record three of these small-scale items, from a collection of
Italian motets printed in Strasbourg in 1622 and 1623.
of Linnet’s edition of Miserere Mei sounds convincingly
17th century. The performance is rather slow, but
it is stripped of any romanticism and displays the group’s fine
musicianship. As it would have been in Allegri’s day, this is
very much an ensemble of nine individual singers. I found the
performance entrancing, a mirror into a very different type
For the Mass, here
performed with the plainchant Introit and Gradual,
the group sound far more choral. A Sei Voci are to be complimented
on allowing us to hear more of Allegri’s music than just the
ubiquitous Miserere. The mass is rather entrancing and
seems to be the work’s only outing on disc. In fact Allegri
masses are few and far between on disc, though the Sixteen have
recently recorded his Missa ‘Che fa oggi il mio sole’
in a programme of music from the Sistine Chapel which manages
to avoid the obvious.
I was less enamoured
of Allegri’s motets, though A Sei Voci give them fine performances.
Here the group function more as individuals and the counter-tenor
voices stand out. These motets have charm but the can’t stand
up to the best in Monteverdi.
Finally we reach
the version of the Miserere with the top C. The result
is well sung and soprano Ruth Holton displays a lovely top C.
But the performance lacks a romantic sheen and this conflation
is nothing if not romantic.
I would not buy this
disc for their performance of the Miserere with the top
C, but as a fine exploration of Allegri’s talents this disc is