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Roma Triumphans
Luca MARENZIO (1553-1599)
Super flumina Babylonis [5:59]
Lamentabatur Jacob [4:17]
Tomás Luis de
VICTORIA (1548-1611)
Lætatus sum [6:53]
Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA (1525?-1594)
Laudate pueri [6:53]
Jubilate Deo [3:43]
Orazio BENEVOLI (1605-1672)
Gloria, from Missa Dominus Angeli [5:38]
Giovanni GIORGI (d.1762)
Terra Tremuit [4:23]
Haec Dies [4:38]
Veni Sancte Spiritus [3:30]
Vincenzo UGOLINI (1570-1638)
Beata es Virgo Maria [4:22]
Exultate omnes [5:48]
Quae est ista [5:25]
Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal/Christopher Jackson
rec. 30 April, 2-4 May 2007, Église de La Nativité de la Sainte-Vierge, La Prairie, Canada
Texts and translations included.
ATMA SACD22507 [61:32]



Experience Classicsonline

The use of the double choir, or cori spezzati, may have effectively begun at St. Mark’s in Venice although there is some evidence that it happened elsewhere in the Veneto before Adrian Willaert’s adoption of the practice at St. Mark’s in the middle of the sixteenth century. However it soon spread across Italy and beyond. Indeed it became a major characteristic of the sacred music of the Spanish baroque and Latin America. The phenomenon is discussed in Anna Tedesco’s ‘The polychoral tradition’ in volume 34 of Early Music (2006, pp.342-344), reporting on a conference held at the Palazzo Giustinian Lolin in Venice in 2005, ‘The polychoral tradition in Italy, the Iberian Peninsula and the New World’.

This CD presents an anthology of polychoral music written for the churches of Rome, roughly between the last quarter of the sixteenth century and the first half of the eighteenth. Given that Giovanni Giorgi died in 1762 it seems unlikely, although his birth date is unknown, that he “was born in Venice in the first quarter of the 17th century” as François Filiatrault suggests in the booklet notes!

ATMA do not offer here the more extreme employments of polychorality – some documents describe the use of as many as ten choirs, often raised each on a separate platform and often each with its own organ or other instrumental accompaniment. This anthology is made up of pieces written for three choirs - such as the two motets by Marenzio and those by Victoria and Ugolini - and for two choirs: the motets by Palestrina and Giorgi.

Palestrina’s is the major voice here, and much else on the disc might be thought of as music written in a more or less direct line of descent from his powerful example. That is true even of Marenzio, whose work displays more obvious debts to the secular madrigal tradition than Palestrina allowed himself when setting sacred texts. Palestrina’s two motets stand out as work of monumental - but far from merely heavy – beauty. Benevoli’s ‘Gloria’ makes good use of its three choirs and the motets by Giorgi - which presumably belong to his years as maestro di capella at St. John’s Lateran in Rome, from 1719-1725 - are all (especially the striking ‘Terra Tremuit’) decidedly interesting examples of later writing, grandly baroque, in the polychoral manner.

Most of the material is sung a capella, though a few pieces are accompanied by continuo bass, in the form of Sylvain Bergeron’s theorbo, Karen Kadevarek’s cello and Réjean Poirier’s positive organ. The thirteen voices of the Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal blend well, are attentive to detail and sustain the occasional solo duties very decently. Just occasionally a little more emotional intensity wouldn’t have gone amiss, but all of these performances enable us to enjoy some complex and rewarding music.

The recorded sound has – as it needs to – a generous but focused sense of space, whether heard on a standard player or an SACD model. Of course, this is one kind of music for which SACD is particularly well suited. Still, the very best recording techniques can never quite give us the real experience of such music - leaving aside such questions of authenticity as the use of female voices. An exercise of active imagination is needed, however good performances and recording may be. Such music was part of a complex sensual and spiritual experience. Leibniz – who was in Rome in 1689 – left a descriptive catalogue of the baroque Catholic experience, writing of “The strains of music, the sweet concord of voices, the poetry of the hymns, the beauty of the liturgy, the blaze of lights, the fragrant perfumes, the sacred vessels adorned with precious stones, the statues and pictures that awaken holy thoughts, the glorious creations of architectural genius, with their effects of height and distance …”. Polychoral writing both took advantage of – and reinforced – the heights and distances of the great baroque churches of Rome and it played its part in the complex of effects which Leibniz describes. Sitting at home, a considerable effort of imagination is needed even to begin to put this music into appropriate context. Perhaps future technology will develop to allow a kind of virtual experience of music and place, at which point reviewers will need to comment on the smells and the statues as well as the singing!

Glyn Pursglove


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