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Giovanni GABRIELI (1555-1612)
Music for Brass and Organ
Canzone e Sonate Canzon XV à 10 [3:57]
Canzone e Sonate Canzon VI à 7 [2:54]
Sacrae Symphoniae Sonata Octavi Toni à 12 [4:40]
Canzone e Sonate Canzon IX à 8 [2:34]
Canzone e Sonate Canzon XVI à 12 [3:21]
Canzon in G minor [3:09]
Sacrae Symphoniae Canzon III à 4 [1:43]
Sacrae Symphoniae Canzon I à 4 ‘La spirita’ [2:39]
Ricercar primi toni [1:58]
Sacrae Symphoniae Canzon IV à 4 [2:02]
Sacrae Symphoniae Canzon II à 4 [2:13]
Sacrae Symphoniae Sonata pian'e forte... [4:20]
Canzon in A minor [3:50]
Canzone e Sonate Canzon I à 5 [2:47]
Canzone e Sonate Sonata XIX à 15 [5:44]
Canzone e Sonate Canzon XVII à 12 [2:27]
Canzone e Sonate Sonata XVIII à 14 [5:26]
Canzone e Sonate Sonata XX à 22 [6:19]
Andreas Sieling (organ)
Berlin Brass/Lucas Vis
rec. February 2013, Berliner Dom, Berlin, Germany. Hybrid SACD, stereo and 5.0 multi-channel. A DSD recording. Reviewed in SACD stereo
PENTATONE PTC 5186509 SACD [63:00]

This is the kind of repertoire that really benefits from the latest recording technology, as Audite’s recent Polychoral Splendour so amply demonstrates (review). Quite apart from the music itself such collections make me wish for a multi-channel system so I can savour – in full – the all-enveloping nature of this music. That said, even in stereo these discs should be able to convey something of the carefully arranged spatial relationships this music requires. Audite have certainly achieved that in the Abbey Church of Muri in Switzerland, which is as vital a participant in the proceedings as the musicians themselves.
Recorded in the Berliner Dom, a huge neo-Renaissance edifice designed by Otto and Julius Raschendorff and completed in 1905, this all-Gabrieli programme is divided into three sections, the last of which includes a mighty piece for some 21 instruments in three choirs (tr. 15). The 30 brass players – drawn from the city’s orchestras – use modern instruments, which may be a deal-breaker for those used to the timbres of cornets, sackbuts and the like. Some may also feel the selection is somewhat unvaried. That’s not the case with the Audite disc, where period instruments and the inclusion of works by Schütz and others guarantees a most rewarding listen.
Reading PentaTone’s publicity material I soon realised their collection is intended as a hi-fi spectacular. That’s not a hanging offence, but I had hoped for something a little more substantial than a disc designed to annoy the neighbours and impress one’s friends. Audiophiles will be pleased to see this is a DSD recording – such things carry great weight in certain quarters – engineered by the well-respected Polyhymnia team. Given these credentials the sonic results ought to be assured at least.
And so it proves – in part anyway – for the weight and punch of these forces is almost physical in its intensity. Whether that alone makes for a satisfying musical experience will depend very much on what you want from this SACD. After the first five pieces – taken from Gabrieli’s Canzone e Sonate and Sacrae Symphoniae – I wondered if my ears would survive more than an hour of aural battering. There's little or no reverb and the bright, clean recording emphasises attack and edge at the expense of weight and warmth. Also, the smooth corporate sheen of these modern instruments played en masse is something of a shock after the lively, more piquant sounds of authentic ones heard in the more grateful spaces of, say, San Marco or San Rocco.
I’ve seen a number of glowing reviews that commend the multi-channel mix for bringing out the antiphonal nature of much of Gabrieli’s writing; alas, in stereo these elements are much harder to discern. Indeed, PentaTone’s recording doesn’t ‘open up’ in the way Audite’s invariably do; that means the organ is often subsumed by the welter of brass, something of a hazard where such forces are employed. Even the solo (tr. 13) is a curiously muted affair. I suspect the extra ambient information available in surround would address some of these issues, although I’m extremely disappointed that the engineers haven’t done a more convincing job for those of us who still listen in stereo.
As I feared this collection is just too unvaried and unremitting, and I certainly wouldn't want to hear it again. Those in search of sheer spectacle may feel rather differently. If you’re among the latter the multi-channel layer is probably your best bet; however, if you’re more interested in Gabrieli look no further than Paul McCreesh and his doughty players. Those recordings may be getting a little old now, but they never fail to invigorate, enlighten and entertain; sadly, such qualities are sorely lacking in this PentaTone release.
Head-bangers only need apply; probably best heard in multi-channel.
Dan Morgan