La Luchesina: Vocal and Instrumental Music of Gioseffo Guami (1542-1611)

His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts, Nicholas Mulroy tenor, Eamonn Dougan baritone, directed by Jamie Savan

We’ve had two reviews of this CD:

If Gioseffo Guami is not a household name among EMR readers, then His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts certainly is and any new CD from them will be seized upon eagerly. This recording is no exception and if Guami is a name with which you are not familiar then you soon will be – this is a wonderfully performed CD of some splendid music, dating from the periods that spanned the composer’s apprenticeship under Willaert at San Marco in Venezia, and his colleagueship with Lassus in Bavaria where both the Gabrielis were serving, before a brief spell in his native Lucca. From here he was headhunted to be organist at San Marco in 1588. When neither he nor Giovanni Gabrieli was elected to the top job there on Zarlino’s death he returned to the cathedral at Lucca where he remained till his death in 1611. The cover design of the labyrinth on a pier at the entrance to the cathedral at Lucca is a nice act of homage to this Luchesina.

Much of the music, edited principally by Jamie Savan and a number of his Newcastle students, comes from Guami’s Sacrae Cantiones published in 1585 and his Canzonette alla francese of 1601, reprinted in 1612. Two highly ornamented Canzonas from Raverii’s 1608 collection suggest that the florid ornamentation in other canzonas may well be Guami’s work too: he was a keyboard player, and his improvisatory skills – hardly any published organ music by him survives – would have been an obvious source for such ornamentation. Particularly interesting is one canzona (L’Accorta – track 8) where the second ‘choir’ is given to the organ, whose shadowing and echo effects are delightful, but not entirely successful: this is due not to any lack of skill or musicianship on the part of Jan Waterfield, the group’s keyboard player, but because the organ used is a standard Klop continuo organ and lacks the sweet open principal tone that was the characteristic sound of the Italian organs of the late 16th century. The stopped pipes of the Klop don’t really match the splendid sound of the cornetts and sackbuts, though the ¼ comma meantone tuning is a treat. This is the only slight blemish in an otherwise perfect recording.

The essential group of HMSC is six players – three cornettists and three trombonists; to which an additional cornet and sackbut are added sometimes, together with a ducian and the organ. Many of the canzoni in the 1601 collection with their semi-descriptive titles are in two contrasting choirs with answering echo effects, the antecedents of Viadana’s canzoni which I remember transcribing from a set of partbooks in the Bodleian as an undergraduate. Nicholas Mulroy and Eamonn Dougan join the group for five of the motets (a sixth is performed instrumentally) and a duet, showing off the singers’ ability to sing in a true meantone temperament. In the concerted motets, the contrast between the cori spezzati is more one of pitch – a higher choir answered by a lower choir or vice versa. The pitch is A=466 Hz, and occasionally in the high end of his range the more soloistic Nicholas Mulroy sounds a little to singerly for my tastes in this essentially concerted music, though he is splendid as the only singer in In die tribulationis, where the sensitive phrasing of the instrumental playing reminds me of just why the cornett was prized as the instrument most akin to the human voice.

In this and in other more grave numbers – one canzona is actually called La Grave – the clean, perfectly tuned notes from the instruments – especially Stephen Saunders’ bass sackbut at the end of La Chiarina – are wonderful.

But in all the pieces, we are left marveling at the skill and musicianship of these fine singers and players in presenting us with this beautifully produced taster CD of a composer whose work is of the highest quality and who seems equally at home in vocal and instrumental music. This CD has rapidly become a companion on my journeys, as well as a landmark in how to listen and play together as a wind group in a way that entirely matches the best viol consorts. And just as the viols and voices combination seems the quintessential sound for Jacobean music in England, so this CD of Guami gives us a standard for performing not only music in Venice at the turn of the 16th to 17th centuries, but also for how we might perform the motets and masses of Lassus as well. I should like to hear these forces singing Gabrieli too.

You should all hear this wonderful music. Many pieces are quite short, and the whole CD with 19 tracks is only 61 minutes in length, but they repay frequent listening. Every detail from the tuning to the changes in tempo to preparing for the cadences is well prepared and beautifully executed. I hope there will be much more Guami to come: meanwhile buy this and give it to your friends.

David Stancliffe

This is an impressive collection of cornett and sackbutt music, with two singers and an organist (Jan Waterfield). I’m a little surprised that every piece has organ continuo, but I won’t complain. The main ensembleconsists of the six people on the inside cover, but there are three others (Gawain Glenton, Miguel Tantos Sevilliano and Keith McGowan). I happen to have been playing organ (not a proper one) recently and tried to vary between legato and detached styles, and added significat breaks. I hadn’t played a church organ for some 50 years until last July, but I treat organ continuo thus, avoiding pure legatos, and shaping the music through subtle breaks between notes. Jan Waterfield was so right that I didn’t really need to pay attention! This style strikes me as ideal for cornett/sackbut repertoires.

As for the music, it is very impressive. I think that an hour is a bit too much: I played it in two halves (an advantage when LPs made that easy!), and these 19 pieces definitely need a break. The players play the texted pieces as if they were singers. But the addition of two real singers didn’t give the effect I expected. They don’t contrast or merge with the players, and I reckon that they need a more forward style. I won’t make a point I sometimes make concerning elaborate cornett divisions, but GG appears in only two items, and these are brilliant. This is certainly a fine collection of music. Sections from two collections of his music are played here (from 1585 and 1601), also calling on three anthologies of the period. The layout of the texts in the booklet is odd: they are not numbered and are placed in the wrong order – 6 & 14, then 9, 1, 3, 19. In nearly every respect, though, this is a fine recording, worthy of Guami’s music.

Clifford Bartlett