A New Venetian Coronation 1595
see end of review for track listing
Gabrieli Consort and Players/Paul McCreesh
rec. 28 February - 1 March 2012, Douai Abbey, Berkshire, UK. DDD
SIGNUM SIGCD287 [73:55] 

Some movies are so popular that after some years they get a 'remake'. The present disc is also a kind of 'remake'. In July 1989 Paul McCreesh recorded a 'Venetian Coronation Mass' as it could have been celebrated in 1595 at the occasion of the appointment of Marino Grimani as the new Doge. Issued by Virgin Classics, it became one of the most popular recordings by the Gabrieli Consort and Players. It was also a kind of showpiece of the ensemble as it featured a liturgical 'reconstruction' which was to become one of its hallmarks. Nearly 25 years after that recording McCreesh thought the time had come to make a new recording. Some of the pieces in the first recording were replaced, but most differences concern performance practice. The booklet includes an interview with McCreesh by Catherine Bott, and it is useful to read this before listening. Here McCreesh explains various aspects of the performance some of which immediately catch the ear.
One of these is that the music sounds much more intimate than one would probably expect, considering that the coronation mass was a major event and the music had to reflect the splendour of which Venice was so proud. One is inclined to attribute this to the venue in which this recording was made, which obviously is very different from St Mark's. McCreesh states that "the music of San Marco is essentially chamber music that was mainly intended for the delight of the Doge and his invited guests, seated in the choir area. There is grandeur in the music but the relative delicacy of cornetts, sackbuts and old violins - as opposed to a modern symphonic brass ensemble - demands a subtler approach, which I hope comes across on the recording".
It certainly does: if you expect large eruptions of sound you will be disappointed. McCreesh is very selective in the scoring of the various pieces. For instance, in the Kyrie à 5 and the Christe à 8 we only hear one or two singers with instruments. Generally McCreesh opted for a performance with one voice per part. "Over the years I have come to believe that one to a part singing was very common in major cathedrals: certainly Andrea Gabrieli's O sacrum convivium gains a marvellous intimacy performed in this way". It is one of the highlights of this disc, and the performance does full justice to the character of its lyrics. Giovanni Gabrieli's setting of Psalm 47, Omnes gentes plaudite manibus, which closes the programme, requires a much more extroverted interpretation, and here we hear all voices and a battery of instruments. It is a shame, by the way, that the booklet doesn't give the scoring of every single piece.
McCreesh's statement that the music was largely performed in the church's choir could also explain that polychoral pieces could be performed without being drowned in the large reverberation of St Mark's. That certainly doesn't happen here, which is not only due to the interpretation but also to the recording technique. Recording this kind of repertoire is anything but easy, and the technical staff deserve accolades for their splendid work.
I referred to this recording as a 'reconstruction'. The quotation marks are justified, because - as McCreesh admits - the programme is "completely speculative". The structure of the liturgy and the kind of music which was available at the time is known. McCreesh’s aim was to bring them together in a way which made sense. He explains his motivation for performing such 'reconstructions'. "The liturgy itself, and the way it has developed over many centuries, is an interesting and beautiful art form: to employ the structure of the liturgy immediately lends the programme a natural shape and form". The programme as it stands may be speculative, but the many short pieces which are included make much more sense than when they are recorded independently. The intonazioni by Giovanni Gabrieli, for instance, were meant to set the tone for a vocal item. It makes little sense to play them without the proper context, also because of their very short length. Let us not forget that most music of that time was composed for a specific occasion, such as the liturgy or for special celebrations. The trumpet pieces by Cesare Bendinelli are from a tutor which has been preserved in manuscript. So this is in fact practice material. It wasn't likely that it would ever appear on disc, but here these pieces make perfect sense. As no Venetian trumpet music has come down to us, they seem to suit the occasion and they are probably not very different from the kind of music which was played in Venice on special occasions like this coronation mass.
Paul McCreesh and his colleagues have done a splendid job by putting together this programme which gives a good insight into the way the various compositions were used. Here the music is restored to the kind of context for which it was created. The splendour of Venice and its liturgical events come better to the fore here than in recordings in which individual pieces are played one after the other. We have to be realistic: you can't always perform music as part of a 'reconstruction' as on this disc. Therefore a project like this can help better appreciate other recordings of music by, for instance, the Gabrielis. As McCreesh says, it is today much easier to bring together a group of people who master the often hard-to-play instruments like the cornett and the sackbut. The way they are played here is impressive. The singers are stylistically convincing, also in the plainchant which is taken from Venetian sources of the 16th century. In the pieces with a couple of voices and a larger ensemble of instruments the balance is very good: the voices can be clearly heard. They are not treated as 'soloists'; rather as part of the ensemble.
To sum up: this is a fascinating and musically captivating aural journey to a city whose splendour was impressively illustrated by the splendour of its music.
Johan van Veen

Fascinating and musically captivating. 

Track listing
[The Procession]
Hans-Leo HASSLER (1564-1612)
Intrada tertia/sexta/septima (1601)/
Cesare BENDINELLI (?-1617)
Trumpet Sonata No. 333 (1614) [8:20]
[The Mass]
Giovanni GABRIELI (1554/57-1612)
Toccata 2. tono (1593) [2:02]
Benedicta sit sancta Trinitas [4:24]
[Arrival of the Doge]
Toccata 26 (1614) [1:01]
Intonazione 1. tono (1593) [0:30]
Andrea GABRIELI (1532/33-1585)
Kyrie à 5 (1587) [1:59]
Christe à 8 (1587) [2:13]
Kyrie à 12 (1587) [3:29]
Gloria à 16 (1587) [5:02]
[Collect] [1:23]
[Epistle] [1:05]
Canzona XIII à 12 (1597) [2:48]
[Gospel] [2:03]
Intonazione 7. tono (1593) [1:14]
Deus qui beatum Marcum à 10 (1597) [2:51]
[Preface] [3:06]
Sanctus and Benedictus à 12 (1587) [3:40]
Sarasinetta 2 (1614) [1:01]
Canzona XVI à 15 (1597) [4:34]
Pater noster [2:02]
Agnus Dei [1:25]
Intonazione 5. tono alla quarta bassa (1593) [0:42]
O sacrum convivium à 5 (1565) [3:59]
Canzona IX à 10 (1597) [4:23]
[Post Communon Prayer] [1:58]
Cesario GUSSAGO (fl c1599-1612)
Sonata La Leona (1608) [2:15]
Omnes gentes à 16 (1597) [4:26]