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Recordings

Cori Spezzati: Venetian Polychoral Music
26 Feb 2007

Cori Spezzati: Venetian Polychoral Music

If there ever was a moment where architecture and music became passionately tied to one another, it would be when the polychoral music of the 16th century was tied to St. Mark’s cathedral in Venice.

Cori Spezzati: Venetian Polychoral Music

Chamber Choir of Europe, Nicol Matt (cond.)

Brilliant Classics 92209 [SACD]

$9.99  Click to buy

By placing choral members in various positions across the chapel, the western choir leaders created the first ‘surround sound’ experience. Cori Spezzati or, “Divided Chorus” was the method in which this polychoral music was positioned across the chapel to create such a spellbinding effect. Of all composers working in this genre, Giovanni Gabrieli seemed most capable of creating such magic. This method rooted itself in Venice partially with thanks to St Marks Cathedrals choirmaster and composer Adrian Willaert. He formed the connective tissue between post-Josquin De Prez composition and what we now hear on this masterful compact disc presented to us by the Chamber Choir of Europe.

This recording, also offered as a Super Audio CD, displays the composers who flourished under the Venetian School established by Willaert. The Chamber Choir of Europe presents us with a dazzling performance centered on the secular madrigal and sacred works of Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli and Claudio Merulo. Performances of pieces by Andrea Gabrieli, who studied under Willaert, provide a link from the Franco-Netherlandish style to a later style typical of Venetian polychoral music, exemplified by his nephew, Giovanni.

Listening to these transitions, we can be thankful that Giovanni kept copious records of his uncle’s work. He kept a scrupulous eye on the past, but Giovanni was an innovator for his time, and even when compared to his uncle. Andrea’s “Alla battaaglia” or “A le guancie de rose” are simple, direct and uncomplicated compared to Giovanni’s “Amor dove mi guidi” which employs three four-part choirs. Even Giovanni’s “Kyrie eleison” a massive sounding call and response between choirs - showcases a change in composition and choir organization from Andrea’s compositions.

Giovanni is surely the cinemascopic composer of the Venetian school of polyphonic vocal music on this disc. His madrigals show a quality and complexity that the other composers featured on “Cori Spezzati” lack. However, Willaert, who played such an integral part in this genre, seems shortchanged with merely one minuscule yet scintillating piece, “Oh bene mio.” The listener will benefit from hearing this piece; not only does it refer to the root of the art form of the madrigal, but one can follow its evolution by listening to Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli afterward.

Cori Spezzati” makes a curious inclusion of three composers from outside of the Venetian school, sent by their kings to study with Giovanni Gabrieli, master his style and return to their respective countries with their own version of the polychoral music of Venice in hand. Still, the madrigals of Johann Grabbe, Hans Nielson and Mogens Perdersøn do serve more than historical interest. Grabbe’s “Cor Mio” and Nielson’s “Deh dolce anima” sound slightly more dark and brooding than Giovanni’s preceding, “Alma cortee s’e bella”. They lack the intensity and elaborations either Gabrieli. But their presence on this album brings the listener a wider scope and variety of the mid-sixteenth century’s polychoral spectrum.

Cori Spezzati” is an exquisite recording. The Chamber Choir of Europe perform near flawlessly and offer the listener a world of stereoscopic sound and vocal beauty. Only the mostly-English liner notes pose a problem; they lyrics are translated into German. But language should not deter one from hearing a piece such as Giovanni’s “Kyrie eleison”, whose vocals spiral to the heavens and almost echo or cascade off of one another. The beauty of this piece and others on “Cori Spezzati” is as impressive and miraculous as Saint Marks itself.

Blair Fraipont

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