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1612 Italian Vespers
10 Nov 2012

1612 Italian Vespers

Following their 2011 Decca recording of Striggio’s Mass in 40 Parts (1566), I Fagiolini continue their quest to unearth lost treasures of the High Renaissance and early Baroque, with this collection of world-premiere recordings, ‘reconstructions’ and ‘reconstitutions’ of music by Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli, Monteverdi, Palestrina, and their less well-known compatriots Viadana, Barbarino and Soriano.

1612 Italian Vespers

I Fagiolini/Robert Hollingworth

Decca 0289 478 3506 6 [CD]

$14.99  Click to buy

The title, 1612 Italian Vespers, is a little misleading, the year being chosen because it marks the death of Giovanni Gabrieli, the departure of Monteverdi from Mantua and his move to Venice, and a notable composition of the little known Parmesan composer, Lodovico Grossi da Viadana — the ambitious 4-part Vesper Psalms — rather than because of the provenance of any one substantial work. Moreover, the most ambitious work recorded is itself highly speculative: Giovanni Gabrieli’s 28-voice Magnificat is, according to the press release, reconstructed by Hugh Keyte and I Fagiolini’s founder and director Robert Hollingworth from 8 extant parts with “scholarship fired by imagination”. Similarly, the hymn Ave, Maria Stella, unites the double-choir setting from Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers with Francesco Soriano’s collection of canons and oblighi, published in the same year. Yet, since Monteverdi’s revered Vespers have long inspired debate about the authenticity of the cohesiveness of the constituent parts (were they ever performed as a whole, or were the Vespers a publishing project designed to win Monteverdi a new job in Venice?), perhaps such inventive conjecture does not matter, especially when the resultant recording as sumptuous and full of vitality as this one.

Gabrieli’s lost masterpiece recreates a thanksgiving Vespers, The Feast of the Holy Rosary, reputedly celebrated for 200 years in commemoration of the famous Venetian victory over the Turks at Lepanto in 1574. The diverse performers — vocal and instrumental — ‘choirs’ signifying ensemble groupings rather than denoting vocalists or instrumentalists — rejoice in the immense sound-scape and the intricate complexity of the idiom: dialogues, echoes and extravagant rhetorical gestures, such as the vigorous repetitions of the fittingly jubilant ‘He have shown strength in his arm/ scattered the proud’, are fore-grounded, and their declamatory effects celebrated. Monumental blocks of sound, conjuring the awesome, inspiring nature of the original setting and context of performance contrast with sparser instrumental textures. And, after a momentous pause — which Keyte presumes originally offered an opportunity for a “‘military’ interpolation”, and for which he duly supplies a fanfare and brief reminiscence of Andrea Gabrieli’s Aria della battaglia for eight wind instruments — bells and cannon fire surprise and excite, resurrecting the triumphant, self-congratulatory festivities of years long hence and empires long lost.

The elder Gabrieli, Andrea, also features, in the form of the densely textured, two-choir, Benedictus Dominus Deus Sabaoth, an assemblage of war-like scriptural texts, presumed to be assembled for Lepanto celebrations, which interposes rhythmically enlivened passages within the weighty sonorities of the massed forces. Andrea Gabrieli’s Toccata del 9 Tono is a brief but impressive study in finger technique, here ornamented impressively by organist James Johnstone.

Despite the monumental scale of Gabrieli’s Magnificat it is Claudio Monteverdi’s Ab aeterno ordinata sum, a supremely virtuosic solo motet, which inspires most admiration, show-casing the range and flexibility of bass, Jonathan Sells, as it moves from imperious dignity to increasingly florid rhetorical splendour.

Of the less renowned composers represented, Viadana’s expressive text setting impresses in a sequence of poly-choral psalms characterised by expressive text setting, dramatic declamation and melodic richness — and framed by beautifully pure, resonant antiphons, reflecting various aspects of the Rosary feast, performed by the members of De Profundis. Massive sonorities contrast with solo passages of inventive virtuosic expression, as two vocal choirs are supplemented by additional high and low choirs for instruments, creating a kaleidoscopic of colours and a rich, invigorating ambience. Viadana’s O dulcissima Maria, for solo soprano is performed with exquisite, piercing sweetness and dexterous agility by soprano Clare Wilkinson, accompanied by theorbo and chamber organ.

Exaudi, Deus by Barbarino from the composer’s second book of solo motets, allows an instrumentalist to shine, show-casing a wonderfully reedy, resounding and elaborate cornetto solo by Gawain Glenton. The earlier generation of composers is represented by Palestrina’s Quae ets ista from the composer’s setting of the Song of Songs.

The disc concludes with an extra-liturgical motet: Giovanni Gabrieli’s In ecclesiis which rejoices that ‘God [is] our helper for ever’. Conjecture and assumption are necessary aspects of music-making among devotees and scholars of Renaissance repertoire and Hugh Keyte introduces an additional element of romance, commenting that when ‘resurrecting’ the original choirs presumed to have been omitted from the later printed edition, the “recovery process has often felt semi-automatic; as though the rejected parts were phantoms jostling at my elbow, eager to be resuscitated”.

Standards of musicianship and technical accomplishment are extraordinarily and consistently high. The diversity of textures, colours and combinations ensures freshness and animation; the monumental balanced by the intimate. And, the crisp definition of recording allows full appreciation of both massive sonorities and subtle dialogues between contrasting groups and individual voices.

Claire Seymour

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