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Giovanni GABRIELI (1544/47-1612)
Sacred Symphonies
Track listing follows review
Ex Cathedra; His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts
Concerto Palatino/Jeffrey Skidmore
rec. All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London, 27-29 May 2012. DDD.
Latin texts and English translations included
HYPERION CDA67957 [66:16]

Experience Classicsonline


Issued in late 2012, this disc celebrated several anniversaries. Primarily it marked the 400th anniversary of the death of Giovanni Gabrieli. However, in 2012 both of the participating instrumental ensembles passed important milestones; His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts and Concerto Palatino were respectively 30 and 25 years old. This occasioned an invitation from Jeffrey Skidmore for these two ensembles of cornett and sackbutt players to join a hand- picked group of ten singers from the Ex Cathedra Consort in recording a tribute to Gabrieli.
 
The programme features pieces taken from his two published sets of Sacrae symphoniae, the first of which was published in 1597 while the second was issued posthumously in 1615.The one exception is Exultet iam angelica turba. A fourteen-part version of this piece was included in the 1615 volume but what is recorded here is a version that adds a fourth choir - three extra parts - and which exists only in a manuscript, which is to be found in Kassel, Germany.
 
Expertly recorded by producer Adrian Peacock and engineer David Hinitt, this disc is a feast for the ears. Jeffrey Skidmore and his excellent musicians bring Gabrieli’s music vividly to life. As you might expect there’s plenty of sonorous grandeur in pieces such as the grand, celebratory Omnes gentes plaudite manibus with its opulent vocal parts and majestic brass writing.However, quite a lot of the music is more intimate in scale, reflecting, no doubt, the fact that the prime audience for the musicians in St. Mark’s would have been seated in the chancel, around which most of the musicians were grouped, as John Wenham points out in his admirable notes. A good example of this intimacy is provided by the 1597 setting of O Jesu mi dulcissima, a devotional piece which is essentially simple and devout in tone. The music, which is slow in tempo, is very restrained, as are the dynamics. Skidmore and his singers give a beautiful rendition of it, the singing poised and refined. Gabrieli returned subsequently to the same text and another setting was included in the 1615 Sacrae symphoniae. We’re offered a chance to compare the two versions. Although in the later setting the music is, once again, slow and devotional in tone it’s noticeable that the vocal lines are more elaborate and include quite a bit of decoration. In places, too, the music is somewhat more ‘public’ in style, mainly at the words “in cælo fulgentem” (“resplendent in heaven”) and for the concluding line, “ut veneremur cælites” (“that we may worship you as citizens of heaven”).
 
The programme opens in great style with Vox Domini super aquas Jordanis. This piece is in honour of St. John the Baptist and is grand and dignified for the most part though the music for ‘Alleluia’ at the end is nimble and exuberant. Impressive also is In ecclesiis  in which the music becomes increasingly elaborate, richly scored in up to fourteen parts. Here, as elsewhere, there’s some excellent solo singing to admire.
 
I enjoyed greatly the performance of the Magnificat. This is joyful music - hence the predominance of triple time. The textures are frequently varied and the doxology at the end is wonderfully sonorous. The singers and players give a splendid account of it. To round things off we hear Exultet iam angelica turba, a piece for the Easter Vigil liturgy. This is extrovert music, excitingly performed. There’s a good deal of flamboyant writing for the vocal soloists - two tenors and a baritone - and though the full scoring extends to no less than seventeen parts most of the singers are held back for the exuberant Alleluias at the close.
 
This is a splendid set of performances. The singing is consistently animated and expert while the instrumental contributions are equally fine. Skidmore and his splendid, committed performers, helped by the engineers, realise the spaciousness of Gabrieli’s music to really good effect. They’re equally successful whether the music is subdued and prayerful or uninhibitedly extrovert. One hears often the label “the splendours of Venice”. Well, those splendours are compellingly revealed here.
 
John Quinn

See also review by Brian Wilson
 
Track Listing
Vox Domini super aquas Jordanis  a 10 C64 (1615) [5:52]
In ecclesiis a 14 C78 (1615) [7:25]
Canzon primi toni a 10  C176 (1597) [3:15]
O Jesu mi dulcissima a 8  C24 (1597) [5:07]
Omnes gentes plaudite manibus a 16  C52 (1597) [4:01]
O Jesu mi dulcissima a 8  C56 (1615) [6:21]
Kyrie a 5/8/12  C71-73 (1615) [6:43]
Maria virgo a 10  C35 (1597) [4:56]
Magnificata 12   C75 (1615) [5:38]
Litaniæ Beatæ Mariæ Virginis a 8  C63 (1615) [12:10]
Exultet iam angelica turba a 17  C131 [4:41]

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