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Andrea GABRIELI (1532/33-1585)
Music at San Marco - Sacrae Cantiones
ensemble officium, Ensemble Gabinetto Armonico/Wilfried Rombach
rec. September 2013 & September/October 2014, Church of St Peter and St Paul, Mössingen; July 2015 St John's, Tübingen, Germany DDD

Gabrieli is a famous name in music history. It is inextricably connected to Venice and its glorious polychoral music. However, it is Giovanni who receives most of the attention. In comparison Andrea’s music is not that often performed and recorded. Moreover, there is more to the Gabrieli's and to Venice than polychoral music. Sacred concertos for between eight and 33 voices were only performed at special occasions and foreign visitors who expressed their admiration for the musical splendour of Venice mostly attended such events rather than the every-day services in San Marco and other churches.

The German ensemble officium has devoted an entire disc to Andrea Gabrieli. All but one of the motets in the programme are taken from the collection Sacrae Cantiones of 1565. They were printed in Venice but it seems likely that they date from the time Andrea stayed in Munich when Orlandus Lassus was Kapellmeister to Albrecht V of Bavaria. Lassus’ influence is clearly noticeable in these motets. This comes especially to the fore in the connection between text and music. Gabrieli uses rhythm in particular to single out some words or phrases, such as "in cymbalis benesonantibus" (resounding cymbals) (Laudate Dominum in sanctus eius) or "exsultabo" (I will rejoice) (Bonum est confiteri). There is a strong contrast between the first line of Ego dormivi (the second part of Domine, quid multiplicati sunt) - "I lie down and sleep" - and the opening of the second: "et exsurrexi" - "and I wake again". The opening line of Fluminis impetus (the pars secunda of Deus noster refugium) is vividly depicted: "The streams of the river gladden the city of God". Another feature of Andrea's motets is their remarkable transparency which makes the texts clearly understandable, despite the fact that Gabrieli sticks to classical polyphony and doesn't turn to the use of homophony. One wonders whether Gabrieli has taken into account here the ideals of the Council of Trent (1545-1563).

The title page of the collection of 1565 includes an interesting indication in regard to performance practice: "extremely comfortable to sing both with fresh voices and with instruments of every kind". Gabrieli must have been impressed by the chapel of voices and instruments Lassus had at his disposal. But the fact that this collection was printed suggests that the practice of using instruments supporting the voices was pretty widespread. This has been used as a justification for some variety in the performances of the motets by the ensemble officium. Some motets are sung a cappella, others by voices with organ or with cornetts and sackbuts playing colla voce. O sacrum convivium has been recorded twice: first in an instrumental version and then with voices alone. Laudate Dominum omnes gentes also appears twice: the disc opens with an instrumental version and later we hear a performance with organ and a cornett playing diminutions. The prima pars of Verba mea auribus is performed with two tenors, cornett and organ.

This leads to my only point of criticism as far as the performances are concerned. Various motets come in two parts and these are sometimes performed with a different line-up. Levavi oculos meos comprises three parts. The first is performed with solo voice (contralto) and organ, the second with voices and instruments and the third with voices and organ. It would be interesting to know how these motets were performed: were the various parts always performed together, as a unity, or could some of them be performed separately? I don't know the answer but I doubt that when they were performed in succession the line-up would have changed from one part to the other. I feel that this way their unity is damaged. This lack of coherence is only reinforced by the pretty long pauses between the parts which are allocated to different tracks.

Otherwise I have nothing but praise for these performances. The very fact that a whole disc is devoted to Andrea Gabrieli and especially to a little known collection of his music deserves much praise. The ensemble officium has delighted us with various fine recordings in the past and this new disc is another jewel in its crown. It is a group of very fine singers which have very clear voices and blend perfectly. The legato is immaculate. The Ensemble Gabinetto Armonico is a good match and the balance between voices and instruments is just right.

Johan van Veen

Previous review: Stephen Barber

Laudate Dominum omnes gentes a 5 (instr) [02:32]
Laudate Dominum in sanctis eius a 10 [03:09]
Laudate Dominum a 5 (instr) [04:44]
Bonum est confiteri a 5 [04:22]
Domine quid multiplicati a 5 [06:39]
Sic Deus dilexit mundum a 5 [03:26]
Sancta et immaculata a 5 [02:59]
O sacrum convivium a 5 (instr) [02:48]
Laetare Ierusalem a 5 [02:47]
Verba mea auribus a 5 [05:07]
O sacrum convivium a 5 [02:57]
O lux beata trinitas a 5 [03:00]
Deus noster refugium a 5 [05:17]
Levavi oculos meos a 5 [07:25]
Domine Dominus noster a 5 [06:13]


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