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1615 – Gabrieli in Venice
Giovanni GABRIELI (1557-1612)
In ecclesiis (a 14), C78 [7:44]
Canzona Seconda (a 6), C196 [4:06]
Suscipe, clementissime Deus (a 12), C70 [4:49]
Hodie completi sunt dies Pentecostes (a 8), C57 [4:03]
Jubilate Deo omnis terra (a 10), C65 [5:17]
Canzona Terza (a 6), C197 [3:27]
Quem vidistis pastores? (a 14), C77 [8:40]
Sonata XXI, ‘con tre violini’ (a 4), C214 [4:27]
Exultavit cor meum in Domino (a 6), C53 [4:33]
Surrexit Christus (a 11), C66 [4:11]
Canzona Prima (a 5), C195 [3:34]
Litaniae Beatae Mariae Virginis (a 8), C63 [11:42]
Magnificat (a 14), C79 [6:28]
His Majesty’s Sackbutts and Cornetts and The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge/Stephen Cleobury
rec. Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge, 11-13 January 2015
Package contains hybrid SACD + Pure Audio Blu-ray (5.1 Dolby True HD + 2.0 LPCM + Dolby Atmos)

The sound alone will be a reason why many people choose to explore this disc, and if you have a BD player with surround sound capacity then it's a good excuse to test it. More than most other BDAs that I've heard, this one really plays to the space and acoustic of the venue. And let's not forget that this music lends itself better than most to that sort of treatment. Gabrieli famously adopted polychoral techniques for San Marco in Venice, and that makes him a prime candidate for a surround sound BDA. Likewise, the resonant echo of King's College Chapel is transformed from a difficulty into a blessing, and it's wonderful to listen to the slow dying of the sound at the end of each track.

The opening In Ecclesiis is spectacular, and the booklet gives you a map to show where the musicians and singers were standing. The sound is marvellous in surround, and it captures the acoustic of the chapel very faithfully, boys and men bouncing off each other's voices wonderfully. The men sound sensational in Suscipe clementissime Deus, deeply alluring as well as devotional, and the boys liven the texture considerably in the subsequent Pentecost motet. The ripe textures of the Jubilate Deo sound marvellously full, and there is splendour aplenty in Quem vidistis Pastores. Likewise, there is a lovely sense of the voices spilling over one another in Exultavit cor meum, with a stiller central section which is much more meditative

Not only the choir, but the instrumental forces of His Majesty's Sagbutts and Cornetts also acquit themselves marvellously. There is a gorgeous blend to the sound of their Canzona Seconda, with the piping coloratura of the Cornetts sounding particularly appealing. In fact, all of the Canzone and Sonatas sound marvellous. The unique blend of these almost forgotten instruments is enormously atmospheric, and it speaks of both majesty and mystery, of devotion and great ceremony. His Majesty's Sagbutts and Cornetts are, of course, world leaders in this sort of music, and they show it here. The choir could seek no finer partners in this music.

The highlights of the disc are the numbers where the instruments and voice come together with particular spice. Surrexit Christus is a particular treat for your surround speakers—choir at the front, cornetts at the back—and the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary splits the choir so that you can hear boys at one end and men at the other. The concluding Magnificat is truly splendiferous. Not only is it one of Gabrieli's finest settings brilliantly played and sung, but exciting sounds seems to bombard the listener from every angle, to the extent that I found myself involuntarily and repeatedly glancing at each of my speakers, as if to check that a particular sound was definitely emerging from where I thought. It really does have to be heard to be believed.

So this disc is an exciting (and all too rare) example of a time when music and technology come together to serve each other brilliantly, and for that reason alone it deserves the accolade of Recording of the Month. If this really is the first ever recording in Dolby Atmos, then they could have chosen no finer repertory to show off what it can do, speaking of learned engineers and technicians as well as musicians. However, it's far more than just a technical showpiece: it's good music brilliantly performed, and whether you're listening through two speakers or eight, there is much to enjoy.

Simon Thompson

Previous review: Dave Billinge



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