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Gregorio ALLEGRI (1582–1652)
Miserere Mei (edited by Jean Lionnet) [15.12]
Missa ‘Vidi turbam magnam’ [24.56]
De ore prudentis [1.52]
Repleti sunt omnes [1.39]
Cantate Domino [3.02]
Miserere Mei [14.25]
A Sei Voci/Berard Fabre-Garrus
rec. November 1993, Collier du Prieure de Vivoin.
NAIVE E8909 [61.37]


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 were allowed.

Allegri’s motets 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.

Their performance 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 of Miserere.

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 highly recommendable.

Robert Hugill



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