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Alessandro STRIGGIO (c.1536/7-1592)
Ecce beatem lucem (1561?/1568) [7:46]
Missa Ecco sì beato giorno (c.1566) [26:31]
Fuggi, spene mia (1565) [2:28]
O giovenil ardire (1568) [3:45]
Altr’io che queste spighe (1570) [2:08]
D’ogni gratia et d’amor (1567 ?/1571) [3:58]
Caro dolce ben moi (1560) [2:26]
Miser’oimè (1560) [2:23]
Vincenzo GALILEI (?late 1520s-1591)
Contrapunto Secondo di BM (1584) [2:21]
Spem in alium [2:05]
Thomas TALLIS (c.1505-1585)
Spem in alium (c.1567) [8:55]
Bonus DVD
40-part pieces in 5.1 surround sound (audio only)
Documentary - The Making of Striggio
I Fagiolini/Robert Hollingworth
rec. 29 September - 1 October 2010, All Saints, Tooting, London
DECCA 478 2734 [CD: 68:53 + DVD: 57:55]

Experience Classicsonline

This is one of those releases which only comes along once in a blue moon - a newly rediscovered Renaissance masterpiece given its first commercial recording after a good deal of hard work and scholarly research and serious decision-making. ‘The Making of Striggio’ documentary explains pretty much all you would want to know about Alessandro Striggio and the context of the music on this recording. Born in Mantua, Striggio was based both there and as a member of the Medici court in Florence. The 40 part Ecce beatem lucem is already well known from its 1980 edition by Hugh Keyte, and formed the basis of the Mass on Ecco sì beato giorno. This was written as a gift for the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II, all part of a certain amount of political manoeuvring which involved Striggio travelling as far as London, where evidence strongly suggests his settings were an influence on events in England, resulting in Tallis writing Spem in Alium. The Mass was believed lost for many years, and only uncovered in Paris quite recently by Davitt Moroney. 

As Robert Hollingworth points out in the DVD, there is no qualitative choice to be made between Striggio’s music and Tallis’s in the same field. The Striggio settings pre-date Spem in alium by a number of years and inhabit a different stylistic time and space. Hollingworth has ‘gone down the Munich route’, taking the illustrations and documentation of known performances of the Mass with a large array of instruments. This serves to enrich an already mighty feast of vocal noise, and the initial impact of the music makes you feel as if you could levitate on its luxuriant sound with relative ease. Striggio’s Missa Ecco sì beato giorno is where most of the attention will be focussed with this release. It is a mesmerising sequence of often slowly moving harmonies. The large scale of the forces used and the acoustic in which they are working unite these elements into an organic whole. Compared with Tallis the harmonic language is indeed relatively conservative, but is certainly not lacking in colour and drama. There are points at which the contrasts of transparency and the full force of the entire ensemble have a telling effect for instance in those breathtaking tutti moments and in the Gloria. There the music shifts in fluid motion between soloists and individual choirs.
This recording has brought together representatives from numerous early music specialist ensembles such as Fretwork and the Rose Consort, but the performance doesn’t shy away from full-blooded projection, and the vocalists are given free rein to let loose with plenty of vibrato when everyone is giving their all. This recording may indeed even serve as a substitute hair-dryer when all voices are in full flow. Tastes will no doubt differ on this subject. My opinion is that such a huge body of sound needs the weight of ‘proper singing’, and that the moments where a little more restraint helps the sense of contrast between vast-scale music-making and more intimate episodes have been used sensibly. Take the gentler opening of the Sanctus, where there is a good deal of reserve and subtle shading in the colour of the singing, the richer choral sound held back until later on. This is one of those pieces for which you need to abandon your modern sense of time and enter an entirely different world. Events unfold slowly and grow and develop at a more monumental pace than the relatively compact Tallis work. In part of the documentary the sound engineer mentions a balance which has to be struck between clarity and overall perspective; indeed, the words of the Mass are less easily followed the more voices are thrown at them. This however is not really the point. It is the import; the meaning and religious feeling behind the words which is decisive, and with this piece there is no avoiding the fervour of the message in this Mass. It is a splendid masterpiece, and I feel privileged to be able to hear it.
The collection of other works which support the Mass also have plenty of interest. Striggio’s mastery of the viol is represented by a sizeable consort of these instruments backing a superb lute solo in Vincenzo Galilei’s Contrapunto Secundo di BM. Striggio in fact wrote relatively few sacred works, and the vocal pieces which follow are occasional works and examples from the composer’s books of madrigals. D’ogni gratia et d’amor was written to commemorate his visit to England, where he was received by Queen Elizabeth and the ‘virtuosi of the music profession there’. These are all fine works given impressive and richly instrumented performances, and serve to put the bigger settings into a context of what would have been more familiar fare in the courts of Renaissance Europe.
Thomas Tallis’s magnificent Spem in alium concludes the programme preceded by its plainchant version. Tallis’s work is described in the booklet notes as ‘simultaneously a tribute to Striggio and a determined effort to upstage him’. This recording is the first to use Hugh Keyte’s new edition of the work, and the forty vocal parts are simultaneously divided between accompanying viols, sackbuts, cornets and dulcians. Opinion may diverge as to whether this approach is an improvement, buy it certainly seems to be a valid interpretation, and fits in well with the sonic palette of the rest of the recording. We are more used to hearing this with the weight and impact of the voices as a unified whole, and the instruments in a way serve to diffuse this effect, providing different textures and highlighting some lines where they would otherwise have blended as part of an all-vocal homogeny. There is no shortage of voice-only Spem in alium recordings however, and with this entire release aimed at shifting our entire outlook on these period masterpieces I’m happy to have encountered this version, and though it doesn’t quite have the tear-jerking effect of the best a-cappella versions Tallis’s scrunchy dissonances and breathtaking harmonic progressions do sound wonderful, and provide a fitting conclusion to the programme.
The extra DVD not only offers a neat little documentary on this production, but also has 5.1 surround sound mixes of the performances of all of the 40-part pieces, the effect of which results in your feeling as if you are sitting at the centre of all of the choirs and instruments. On a good system the effect of this can be quite overwhelming, the shifting movement of vast sounds crossing your auditory horizon like the shadows of clouds moving across a beautiful, gently undulating landscape.
All in all this is an adventurous and truly magnificent release, and one which no lover of good choral music should be without.  
Dominy Clements








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