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Andrea GABRIELI (1532/3-1585)
Sacrae Cantiones 1565
Ensemble Officium
Ensemble Gabinetto Armonico/Wilfried Rombach
rec. September 2013, September & October 2014, Evangelische Kirche Peter und Paul, Mössingen; July 2015, Katholische Stadtkirche St Johannes, Tübingen

As a non-specialist listener to early music I have found it hard to get Andrea Gabrieli into focus. I feel reasonably familiar with Monteverdi, helped by having such obvious masterpieces as the 1610 Vespers and the opera Orfeo as landmarks. Monteverdi’s predecessor Giovanni Gabrieli is also a known quantity, with his exuberant polychoral motets and his instrumental canzonas and sonatas which make a joyful noise. Giovanni’s uncle Andrea has for me turned up only on mixed discs with other composers, so I was glad to have this opportunity to consider him on his own.

Like his nephew, his most productive years were spent at St Mark’s in Venice, though most of the works on this CD were published in 1565, just before he took up the post of organist there; in fact he had already been active in Venice. (No. 2, Laudate Dominum in sanctis eius dates from even earlier, 1557.) In 1562 he had gone to Germany, where he had met Lassus, who remained a lifelong friend. This collection of Sacrae Cantiones may have been written in friendly rivalry with a similar set Lassus published in 1562. Andrea concentrates on psalm settings, which were saleable outside as well as inside the Catholic world. In them we find Gabrieli showing the influence of Lassus but also at times moving away from the polyphonic tradition to homophonic writing with an emphasis on variety of texture and simple word setting. For example in 6-7, Domine, qui multiplicati, we find in Part 1 the voices moving together with little counterpoint and without melismas: the running of a syllable over several different notes. In the next piece, Sic Deus dilexit mundum, we have canonic entries over a march rhythm with a final triumphal prolonged alleluia.

Andrea’s sensibility seems to have been rather more severe and austere than his nephew, which may account for the latter’s greater fame. Yet he can be genuinely joyful, for example in 11, Laetare, as this was written for the fourth Sunday in Lent, otherwise Refreshment Sunday or Mothering Sunday, and traditionally a moment of repose from Lenten gloom.

He was willing for his settings to be sung by voices or played by instruments, and when sung to be accompanied or not by instruments. So two of the numbers here are given in two different versions: the opening Laudate Dominum is given first by the instrumental ensemble and then again in a version, termed a 'diminution', which is to say a decorated version in shorter notes, for cornett and organ. This is astoundingly virtuosic and here allows cornett player Friederike Otto to display his skills. Similarly there are two versions of O sacrum convivium, number 10 being instrumental and number 14 vocal. The instruments to hand are the cornett, the organ – two different organists are credited – and four trombones, and a very sonorous sound they make. Their use is varied: some numbers are lightly supported by the organ alone, or sung a capella, while 16-17, Deus noster refugium, is so strongly supported by the brass that I thought it almost too much of a good thing.

I greatly enjoyed the singing. Twenty-two singers are credited, but only half that number tend to be used in any one piece. The choir is mixed, with women on the upper lines. This may not be historically correct, as I imagine boys’ voices were intended, but their voices broke much later in those days so that we could not exactly reproduce the effect now. In any case I enjoy the secure and exact intonation of the women on the upper lines. The first part of 18-20, Levavi oculum, is in effect a sacred concerto, Wiebke Wieghardt takes the solo line to great effect.

My enjoyment of the singing was enhanced by the acoustic of the churches in which the recording was made. This gives a radiance to the sound which makes it a pleasure in itself, even apart from what they are singing. Wilfried Rombach has varied the scoring artfully so that there is quite an expressive range in the pieces chosen and their instrumentation. I have heard that some people find this recording dull. I can only say that for me it comes over well.

Christophorus is a German label. Although there are notes in English, the texts are given only in Latin and German. The notes do provide references, and although the verse numbering in English psalters is slightly different from the German, anyone listening with a psalter to hand will find the English version easily enough. Of the texts not from the psalms two are Biblical: 8, Sic Deus dilexit mundum, sets John 3:16; 11, Laetare Jerusalem sets Isaiah 66.10-11. There remain three others. 9, Sancta et immolata, is from the responsory to the second nocturn at Matins of Christmas day: ‘O blessed Maiden, so holy and spotless in thy virginity, I know not how to praise thy greatness: because he whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain lay hidden in thy breast.’ 11, Laetare Jerusalem, is the introit to mass on the fourth Sunday in Lent: ‘Rejoice ye with Jerusalem: and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her: that ye may suck and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations’. 14, O sacrum convivium, is the antiphon to the Magnificat at Second Vespers of Corpus Christi: ‘O sacred banquet, wherein Christ is received, the memory of his Passion is renewed, the soul with grace is filled, and a pledge of future glory is bestowed’.

I was very pleased to get to know Andrea Gabrieli better through this recording.

Stephen Barber

Track listing
1. Laudate Dominum omnes gentes (instrumental version) [2:32]
2. Laudate Dominum in sanctis eius á 10 [3:09]
3. Laudate Dominum (diminution for cornett and organ) [4:44]
4-5. Bonum est confiteri [4:22]
6-7. Domine, quid multiplicati [6:39]
8. Sic Deus dilexit mundum [3:26]
9. Sancta et immaculata [2:59]
10. O sacrum convivium (instrumental version) [2:48]
11. Laetare Ierusalem [2:47]
12-13. Verba mea auribus [5:07]
14. O sacrum convivium [2:57]
15. O lux beata trinitas [3:00]
16-17. Deus noster refugium [5:17]
18-20. Levavi oculos meos [7:25]
21-22. Domine Deus noster [6:13]



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