Giovanni Gabrieli: Gloria a Venezia!

La Guilde des Mercenaires, Adrien Mabire
Château de Versailles Spectacles CVS041

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Grand scale pieces by Giovanni Gabrieli and contemporaries are often given a rather ponderous grandeur in performance. This disc offers a different  balance, instead maintaining a sense of energy and forward momentum. The overlapping choirs pass the baton without breaking pace, adding a fervent muscularity to this popular repertoire. Whilst this provides a welcome new light on many familiar pieces, applied relentlessly it can occasionally feel rather breathless, and misses opportunities for the music to put down the occasional foot and make a point. An example might be Angelus ad pastores ait, in which the exchange between the narrative voice represented by one choir passing over to the reported speech of the Angel in the other, without feeling the opening and closing speech marks. The pieces regularly change scale to give contrast. Thus we move from the opening Magnificat by Merulo with its full panoply of voices, cornetts and sackbuts, to Gabrieli’s canzon terza a 4, performed on solo cornett with organ. The contrast between the Merulo, with colla parte instruments, unusually including the top voice with a slightly tiring effect, and the following canzon, was a touch severe particularly as this piece for four instruments is constructed as sets of dialogues and calls out for distinct “voices”. Two other four-part canzoni leaven the programme further on: one with four instruments, and one more with cornett and organ. Ordering the realisations differently would have been easier on my ear (but, admittedly, this is just personal taste). The organ used has a splendid sonority – a noticeable step towards the historic cathedral organs from the smaller organs often used in modern performance – and is very fluently played. The organ ricercar, which makes a later appearance, has a real presence and immediacy. The singers are excellent and carry conviction, blending very well with each other and with the well-shaped instrumental playing. A fine addition to the CD collections of admirers of La Serenissima.

Stephen Cassidy

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