Cavalli: Requiem

Ensemble Polyharmonique, Alexander Schneider
Raumklang RK3601
+ Motets by Alessandro Grandi

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n his death in 1667, Francesco Cavalli left behind an eight-part Requiem as well as instructions on how it ought it feature in his funeral service. It is like something out of the plot of Amadeus, but in fact it was not unusual for composers to write their own musical envoi. It certainly guaranteed that the music was generally of the highest quality, as they assembled all the skills they had accrued throughout their lives for this one last attempt at immortality. Certainly Cavalli’s serene and exquisite Requiem  – firmly in the stilo antico  – has this definitive feel about it. Cavalli’s instructions call upon the entire instrumental and vocal forces which could be mustered by San Marco in Venice, where he was working, a vast army including no less than three organists.

By contast, singing one to a part with minimal instrumental support in the form of arpa doppia, viola da gamba and organ, the singers of the Ensemble Polyharmonique nonetheless give a passionate and moving account of Cavalli’s music, interweaving motets by his older compatriot Alessandro Grandi into a powerful programme. It would be wonderful some time to hear the work given an epic performance such as its composer envisaged. The recent spotlight that has been turned on Cavalli’s church music has revealed a composer as skilled in this sphere as he was in the realm of opera, and this Requiem  is every bit as fine as the Missa concertata and vespers music which have featured on recent CDs.

D. James Ross

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