Classical CD Reviews

New classical music releases reviewed in detail by Gavin Dixon

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Canzoni per Sonare Giovanni Gabrieli and his contemporaries

Canzoni per Sonare Giovanni Gabrieli and his contemporaries
Giovanni GABRIELI (b c.1554-7; d 1612) Canzon Vigesimaottava ‘Sol sol la sol fa mi’, à 8 [1:41]
Gioseffo GUAMI (1542-1611) Canzon Vigesimaquinta, à 8 [2:30]
Giovanni GABRIELI Canzon Prima ‘La Spiritata’, à 4 [2:39]
Pietro LAPPI (c.1575-1630) Canzon Undecima ‘La Scrasina’, à 4 [2:41]
Pietro LAPPI Canzon Vigesimasesta ‘La Negrona’, à 8 [4:20]
Luzzasco LUZZASCHI (?1545-1607) Canzon Decima, à 4 [1:50]
Girolamo Alessandro FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643) Canzon Terzadecima, à 4 [1:49]
Giovanni GABRIELI Canzon Seconda [2:25]
Costanzo ANTEGNATI (1549-1624) Canzon Nona ‘La Battera’, à 4 [2:58]
Bastian CHILESE (fl 1608) Canzon Vigesimaseconda, à 5 [1:55]
Girolamo Alessandro FRESCOBALDI Canzon Vigesimaprima, à 5 [2:35]
Giovanni GABRIELI Canzon Terza, à 4 [2:03]
Giovanni Battista GRILLO (d 1622) Canzon Quartadecima ‘Capricio’, à 4 [2:16]
Gioseffo GUAMI Canzon Decimanona, à 5 [3:12]
Orindio BARTOLINI (c.1580-1640) Canzon Trigesima, à 8 [2:26]
Giovanni GABRIELI Canzon Quarta, à 4 [2:35]
GUAMI Canzon Sesta, à 4 [3:06]
ANTEGNATI Canzon Vigesima ‘La Moranda’, à 5 [2:46]
Florentio MASCHERA (c1540-c1584) Canzon Settima ‘La Mazzuola’, à 4 [3:15]
Tiburzio MASSAINO (b before 1550; d after 1608) Canzon Trigesimaquarta, à 8 [2:20]
MASSAINO Canzon Trigesimaterza, à 8 [3:12]
Claudio MERULO Canzon Quinto, à 4 [3:56]
MERULO Canzon Vigesimaterza, à 5 [1:27]
Giovanni GABRIELI Canzon Vigesimasettima ‘Fa sol la re’, à 8 [2:53]
FRESCOBALDI Canzon Vigesimanona, à 8 [2:35]

His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts
The Purcell Quartet
Chordophony
Rec. in the Church of St John the Evangelist, Upper Norwood, London 28-30 November 2007 Stereo DDD
SFZ MUSIC SFZM0209 [66:43]


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Giovanni Gabrieli is known today as one of the greatest composers of the early 17th century, a reputation that is fully justified but also one established early by the fledgling music publication industry of the Venetian empire. This recording takes one of those early publications as its starting point, the ‘Canzoni per Sonare con ogni sorte di stromenti’, issued by Alessandro Raverii in 1608. The choice could be considered quite arbitrary, considering the volume contains music by 12 different composers and little (if any) of it was written specifically for this publication. However, Gabrieli is well served by this programming; all six of the canzons he contributed to the publication are presented, and the selection of works by his contemporaries and recent predecessors gives a fascinating insight into the environment in which he worked.

Few of these works are antiphonal and most are written in four or five voices. If programmed with his grander polychoral conceptions for St Marks, the Gabrieli canzons could have been overwhelmed, another sound reason for the present programme. His superiority over his colleagues is rarely called into serious question, and the fluid intricacy of his counterpoint is never outclassed. The way, for example, that he brings a voice to the fore with an ascending scale leading up to the crucial note, or the way that the logic of his counterpoint transfers so seamlessly between duple and triple meters. And how telling that the consummate intricacy of his counterpoint works as well in the four and five voice works presented here as it does in the ten and twelve voice works for which he is better known.

Of the other composers, the best known is Frescobaldi, whose three contributions are all in a clearer, more direct contrapuntal style. Unlike Gabrieli, his motifs tend to be slightly more intricate, while the ensuing counterpoint is simpler and regularly reverts to chordal textures. Claudio Merulo is an interesting inclusion, given that he too was a music publisher, but had died just a few years before Raverii’s publication. Poaching from the competition perhaps? More significantly though, he was also Gabrieli’s predecessor as organist of St. Mark’s, and his music offers another interesting insight into the world in which Gabrieli worked. Of the Merulo works presented here, the most interesting is the ‘Canzon Vigesimaterza a 5’, which is played at a brisk tempo by brass and organ, and benefits from a clear, if rhythmically reserved contrapuntal style. Again, it’s not quite up to Gabrieli’s standards, but it stands up well on its own merits.

The issue of instrumentation is a tricky one in this repertoire, and the players have taken the book’s subtitle ‘con ogni sorte di stromenti’ (with all sorts of instruments) as license to alternate and mix various combinations of cornets, sackbuts, lutes and renaissance violins, organ and harpsichord. This is primarily a recording project by His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts (it is released on their own label) so brass takes precedence, with the other ensembles, the Purcell Quartet and the Chordophony lute ensemble appearing in a more occasional ‘guest star’ capacity. The only composer to contribute works with the instrumentation specified was Tiburzio Massiano. His ‘Canzon Trigesimaquarta a 8’ is scored for ensembles of choirs of lutes and viols, while his ‘Canzon Trigesimaterza a 8’ uses only trombones. The instrumentation of both seems extreme, especially when compared with the more balanced groupings that modern players tend to apply to the music of this era. But the antiphony between plucked and bowed strings is an effective contrapuntal device, while the sound of sackbuts playing at lower dynamics without having to compete with cornetts is an unusual and satisfying treat.

Not that there is anything wrong with the cornett playing on the disc, indeed the lightness and fluidity of the upper brass serves all of these composers well. And the keyboard interludes, chamber organ and harpsichord performed by Gary Cooper, maintain a similar lyrical flow.

Given that the recording was made in a church, the acoustic is surprisingly dry. Too much so for some tastes, perhaps, but all the better to hear the intricacies of these small polyphonic ensembles. Overall, this CD is a fascinating addition to the renaissance music catalogue, or rather to the Giovanni Gabrieli catalogue. Of the 36 works in Raverii’s publication, 25 are presented here, and unsurprisingly all of Gabrieli’s contributions are included. Perhaps a double disc could have included every work in the volume, or would that have run the risk of diluting the Gabrieli contribution too far?

Gavin Dixon

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