Andrea Gabrieli: Sacræ Cantiones

Music at San Marco di Venezia 
ensemble officium
Christophorus CHR 77390

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his varied programme of music for voices and instruments is taken from Andrea Gabrieli’s Sacræ Cantiones  of 1565, an early publication comprising works composed for the Munich Hofkapelle, which Gabrieli visited, working alongside Lassus. It is worth remembering that this music, which now sounds so distinctively ‘Venetian’ to us was composed for Lassus’ Court ‘orchestra’, and bearing that in mind, we can readily hear the influence of Lassus throughout. This is particularly the case in a cappella works such as Bonum est confiteri, whereas in the more elaborate works incorporating cornets and sackbuts we can hear the future musical world which was to make San Marco the envy of early Baroque Europe. All of the music is taken from the 1565 publication with the exception of the ‘diminution’ of Laudate Dominum  for cornet and organ, completed in period style by the group’s excellent cornet soloist Friederike Otto, and the complex 10-part setting of Laudate Dominum in sanctis eius, published posthumously in 1587 by the composer’s nephew and musical heir, Giovanni. The singing and playing are precise and expressive, and if I could occasionally have done with more panache and a slightly more generous acoustic – assuming as the CD title suggests that Gabrieli went on to use his earlier works in San Marco following his appointment there in 1566 – I liked the way the ensemble sometimes employed voices on each line, including the high top lines. Although it is widely assumed that the choral forces in San Marco were made up of adult male singers with falsetto male alto voices topped by cornets, the use of boys or even adult male sopranos cannot be ruled out. I also liked the variety of presentations, including a lovely instrumental rendition of O sacrum convivium. It is easy to dismiss Andrea Gabrieli as a bridge figure between Lassus and his flamboyant nephew Gabrieli, but this CD helps to reinforce the fact that he had his own distinctive and profound voice, which was already clearly in evidence in this early publication.

D. James Ross

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