Giovanni GABRIELI (c.1553/6-1612)
Gabrieli in Venice - 1615
In ecclesiis a 14 C78 [7:45]
Canzon Seconda a 6 C196 [4:07]
Suscipe, clementissime Deus a 12 C70 [4:50]
Hodie completi sunt dies pentecostes C57 [4:04]
Jubilate Deo omnis terra a 10 C65 [5:18]
Canzona Terza a 6 C197 [3:27]
Quem vidistis pastores? a 14 C77 [8:41]
Sonata XXI con tre violini a 4 C214 [4:27]
Exsultavit cor meum in Domino a 6 C53 [4:34]
Surrexit Christus a 11 C66 [4:12]
Canzona prima a 5 C195 [3:34]
Litania Beata Mariae Virginis a8 C63 [11:42]
Magnificat a14 C79 [6:29]
The Choir of Kings College Cambridge/Cleobury, His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts/West
Rec. Kings College Chapel, Cambridge, England 11-13 January and 22-23 June 2015
Two discs: 1x SACD/CD Hybrid Stereo/Surround 5.0 and 1x Blu-ray Audio Dolby TrueHD5.1, LPCM 24bit/96kHz 2.0 & Dolby Atmos
reviewed in Dolby TrueHD5.1 and SACD Surround 5.0 (see notes below).
Discs devoted entirely to Gabrieli seem few and far between which makes this issue doubly welcome.

Giovanni Gabrieli was not as prolific as his uncle Andreas Gabrieli (1533-1585) but he has come to be recognised as the more significant composer. His output is nonetheless substantial: some 94 motets, 7 magnificats and other choral works, about 30 madrigals and around 50 canzonas and sonatas for various instruments. His output has only been properly catalogued fairly recently. This new catalogue was published in 1996 by Richard Charteris, whose 'C' numbers are appended to each title above.

He was very influential, for example Heinrich Schütz was a pupil, and Gabrieli is seen as the apex of High Renaissance church music. He wrote nothing secular like dances or suites. The range of his church music is well represented in this set of thirteen choral and instrumental works draw from the posthumously published Symphoniae Sacrae of 1615, thus the album title. Whether the voices of the King's College choristers would have been what Gabrieli expected one can have no idea. The only point of comparison is the Motet In eccelsis which was also recorded by the Italian group Melodi Cantores on a 2012 Arts SACD 47762-8. The two performances are different in many details but the really striking difference is the timbre of the voices, the Italian performance being altogether more rich and passionate whilst the King's College choir sound cleaner and more refined in approach. Both are splendid but one has to ask who is likely to be closer to authentic Gabrieli. The Cambridge choristers are largely very good but there are moments of roughness where individual voices stand out as if more rehearsal might have been needed. His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts (yes that is a 'g') are well known for their expert playing of the fiercely difficult Renaissance cornett and the more easily handled trombone-like sackbutt. Within the spacious acoustic of Kings College Chapel they sound both lyrical and grand as required and when joining the voices the resultant polyphony is quite glorious to hear. These pieces do not particularly belong together as part of a larger whole but they have been sequenced for contrast and so as to culminate in a final spectacular Magnificat which leaves the listener feeling that a journey is complete. For listeners wanting more, a lot of Giovanni Gabrieli's music is available but it tends to be issued as complete sets of, for example, the music for wind, and one has none of the affecting contrasts presented here, making this lovely issue rather special.

As indicated by the technical specification in the review header, this is a complex and partly experimental issue. The same music is available in at least six different masterings. This is great and the technical team are to be congratulated on being so willing to commit to this. I therefore regret to say that gremlins have been at the SACD layer. The surround tracks have no rear left channel and the stereo tracks have been mixed such that most of the sound comes from the right channel only. The CD stereo layer sounds excellent and on the Blu-ray disc both LPCM stereo and Dolby TrueHD surround tracks are also very good. I, along with 99.9% of the purchasers, do not own the equipment to decode the Dolby Atmos tracks (height as well as surround), so that has to be taken on trust. I have come across similar SACD production problems once or twice before and in those cases the problem lay with the manufacturing plant where master recordings are turned into physical product. At a guess, this is what has happened here. I am told by a member of the production team at Abbey Road that a replacement SACD/CD has been made available. Since no copy has reached me I assume, but cannot confirm, that corrections have been made. Purchasers should stick to the CD layer or the Blu-ray disc which are free of error so far as I can tell.

Dave Billinge

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