San Marco di Venezia – The Golden Age

Les Traversées Baroques, Etienne Meyer
72:28
Accent ACC 24345
Music by G. B. Bassani, A. & G. Gabrieli, C. Merulo

Having had the considerable honour and pleasure  of rehearsing the music of Giovanni Gabrieli for days at a stretch, surrounded by the Tintorettos of San Rocco, the common sensibilities of these two contemporary artists become clear. This disc captures these parallels very well. Many of his pieces, and particularly the ones chosen to open this programme, start with low voices laying down the dark ground, the tenebrae, over which, layer by layer, voices of increasingly high tessitura build the mannerist drama of the brighter figures. Much of the energy of paintings at this time is communicated by the brush strokes, sometimes eliding apparently separate objects for the sake of pictorial rhythm, sometimes separating objects to clarify detail, where the story calls for it. There were points in the music where I felt that this aspect could have been emphasised, recognising Gabrieli’s absolutely mannerist use of the tensions between melodic and harmonic rhythm to create drama-in-the-moment. The wind playing is artfully crafted and the voices beautifully integrated. Occasionally the colouration used by the top soprano causes her to step apart from the ensemble, reducing rather than enhancing the dramatic tension. This feature was however turned to advantage in the Bassano divisions on Palestrina’s Veni delicte mi, where the mobility of the voice in the long notes becomes more of a piece with the divided notes, avoiding the awkward transitions between (too) static and (too) frenetic passages, which undermines many performances of this genre. This performance was a revelation, integrated in this way. Vocal and instrumental pieces are interspersed by organ solos. These had weight and momentum, played on a strong toned organ with needling quints, and the rhythm of the passagework carried very well over the chord changes. It was a nice touch to finish the disc with three large scale pieces by Bassano, the best player-composer in Gabrieli’s band at St Mark’s. So often eclipsed in modern times by his organ-playing friend, Bassano deserves a wider airing. His famous treatise has given us a window on their performance practices. Listen to this disc to hear them at their best.

Stephen Cassidy

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Stephen Cassidy