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Gabrieli motets CPO5552912
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Andrea GABRIELI (1533-1585)
Motets & Organ Works
Edoardo Bellotti (organ), Weser-Renaissance Bremen/Manfred Cordes
rec. 2018, Stiftskirche, Bassum, Germany
Texts and translations included
CPO 555 291-2 [69:07]

For some centuries Venice was one of the major music centres of Italy and even of Europe. Many aristocrats visited the city as part of their grand tour to witness its splendour and to listen to how this was expressed in music. Young musicians travelled to Venice to study, especially with Giovanni Gabrieli, the organist of San Marco. From 1585 until his death it was also his duty to compose its ceremonial music. Before that this had been the task of his uncle Andrea who is the subject of this disc.

Andrea Gabrieli was born in Venice and was educated as an organist. In 1557 he applied for the position of organist of San Marco, as the successor of Girolamo Parabosco. He failed, and Claudio Merulo was appointed, who would then develop into one of the main musical personalities in Venice in the next about 25 years. In the early 1560s Gabrieli came into contact with Orlandus Lassus. In 1562 Lassus' employer, Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria, went to Frankfurt to attend the coronation of Emperor Maximilian II. In his retinue were both Lassus and Gabrieli. But his heart apparently was in Venice. In 1566 he was appointed as organist of San Marco - alongside Merulo - and he resisted an attempt of Lassus to make him return to Bavaria to enter the service of Duke Albrecht.

Gabrieli's activities were not confined to the church. He also actively participated in music life at large. His sizeable oeuvre includes masses, motets and organ works, but also madrigals and music for the theatre. For this recording, Manfred Cordes focused on the sacred part of Gabrieli's oeuvre. He selected a number of motets and psalm settings, all but one taken from the collection of pieces by him and by his nephew Giovanni, which was printed posthumously in 1587. In addition we get one of the seven penitential psalms which were published in 1583, and two mass sections (Kyrie and Sanctus). The vocal works are interspersed by organ pieces.

The music written and performed in Venice in the decades around 1600 didn't only exert great attraction for contemporary musicians and music-lovers but also for performers and audiences of our own time. That goes especially for the large-scale vocal music, reflecting the practice of cori spezzati. This was highly influential in its time: music for two or more choirs was composed in other parts of Europe as well, in many cases under the direct influence of what was written in Venice, by the Gabrielis and earlier by Adrian Willaert, strictly speaking the founder of the polychoral style. Examples are the polychoral works of north German composer Michael Praetorius. In 1619 Heinrich Schütz published his Psalmen Davids, which he composed under the influence of what he had heard in Venice where he had studied with Giovanni Gabrieli.

As is to be expected, the programme performed by Weser-Renaissance includes some specimens of the polychoral style. However, we also get pieces in a smaller scoring, which is nice, as this part of Gabrieli's oeuvre receives less attention. After all, polychoral music was only performed at special occasions. In the day-to-day liturgical practice music of more modest proportions was used. The Doge not only attended splendid liturgical celebrations but also, on a more regular basis, a low mass (the Messa bassa) in a side chapel, where the performing forces were much more modest. The ceremonial ruled that the choir was to sing in any case, whenever the Doge was present in the Basilica. It seems likely that in these morning Masses the music was performed by a small group of singers, often without the accompaniment of the organ. At these occasions Andrea Gabrieli's six- or seven-part motets from the 1587 collection or from the collection of Cantiones Sacrae of 1565 may have been performed. The latter was reprinted in 1584 with an additional bass part for the organ. This reprint attests to the great appreciation of Gabrieli's music.

It is not only the selection of some pieces in a modest scoring which results in a varied picture of Gabrieli's oeuvre. Manfred Cordes also avoids using instruments indiscriminately. As we have seen, performances often omitted any instruments. On this disc Sancta Maria is an example of a motet which is performed a capella, and that is well justified given the text: "Holy Mary, be thou a help to the wretched, strengthen the timid, comfort the sorrowful." The same goes for Domine, ne in furore tuo, a setting of Psalm 6, which opens Gabrieli's collection of penitential psalms. Instruments as cornetts and sackbuts would be out of place here. Some other pieces are performed with only a few instruments, such as dulcian, chitarrone and organ. The large-scale works for eight to twelve voices are performed with instruments. That is inevitable, as the vocal ensemble comprises just seven voices. In such cases some of the parts are performed instrumentally. In pieces for six or seven voices, they take a different role and play colla voce.

In Gabrieli's motets one won't find many madrigalisms. However, there are quite some passages where the text is illustrated in some ways, for instance through a lively rhythm when the text expresses joy. The end of Egredimini et videte is a good example: "all the children of God rejoice". The motet Exultate iusti in Domino is another. It seems likely that these examples show that Gabrieli learned a thing or two from Lassus.

To round off this survey of Gabrieli's oeuvre for the church, Edoardo Bellotti plays some organ works. The toccata is one of the most free genres of keyboard music, where a composer can give free rein to his fantasy. Such pieces have their origin in the practice of improvisation. The canzona is modelled after vocal music; the name is derived from chanson. The ricercare is also a genre which is not strictly defined, and can be shaped in different ways. Interesting is here that Bellotti plays his own intavolation of a motet; first Angelus ad pastores ait is sung as written by Gabrieli, and then Bellotti plays his transcription. This was a very common practice at the time, and again often improvised. It is a bit of a shame that the performers did not take the opportunity to include some of Gabrieli's intonationi: short keyboard pieces which are intended to prepare the performance of a vocal work.

Giovanni Gabrieli receives much more attention than his uncle Andrea, and whereas many of Giovanni's motets are rather well-known, Andrea's music is far less recognizable. Therefore the release of this disc cannot be appreciated enough. As one may expect from these performers, we get pretty much ideal interpretations. Manfred Cordes has a gift to bring together the singers who are fully at home in this repertoire, and whose voices blend perfectly. The rhythmic precision is impressive, and needed in those episodes where a lively rhythm is used to express the text. The precise intonation is another asset of Weser-Renaissance. Edoardo Bellotti is playing the copy, and partly reconstruction of an Italian organ of the 17th century.

Johan van Veen

Previous review: Gary Higginson

Deus misereatur nostri a 12 [4:06]
Toccata 1. toni [4.01]
Kyrie eleison a 5 / Christe eleison a 8 / Kyrie eleison a 12 [5:32]
Recercare arioso [4:29]
Egredimini et videte a 8 [2:17]
O gloriosa Domina a 6 [3:18]
Sancta Maria a 6 [3:04]
Ave regina a 7 [2:06]
Ricercare in C [5:08]
Jubilate Deo a 8 [3:21]
Sanctus a 12 [2:29]
Canzon ariosa [2:55]
Domine, ne in furore tuo a 6 [7:46]
Deus, qui beatum Marcum a 8 [2:44]
Exultate justi a 10 [3:36]
Angelus ad pastores ait a 4 [1:34]
Angelus ad pastores (intabulation Edoardo Bellotti) [2:53]
Domine Deus meus a 7 [3:34]
Benedicam Dominum a 12 [4:03]

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