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Giovanni GABRIELI (1554/57 - 1612): "Gloria a Venezia!"

La Guilde des Mercenaires
Dir: Adrien Mabire

rec: Oct 8 - 11, 2019, Versailles, Chapelle Royale
Château de Versailles Spectacles - CVS041 (© 2021) (53'47")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Giovanni GABRIELI: Angelus ad pastores ait a 12 (C 5) [1]; Beata es virgo Maria a 6 (C 8) [2]; Beati immaculati a 8 (C 18) [2]; Canzon 'La Spiritata' a 4 (C 186); Canzon II a 4 (C 187); Canzon III a 4 (C 188); Canzon IV a 4 (C 189); Deus, Deus meus a 10 (C 4) [1]; Domine exaudi a 10 (C 15) [2]; Ego dixi a 7 (C 2) [1]; Inclina Domine a 6 (C 1) [1]; Jubilate Deo a 8 (C 16) [2]; O magnum mysterium a 10 (C 3) [1]; Ricercar per organoa; Surrexit pastor bonus a 10 (C 37) [2]; Gioseffo GUAMI (1542-1611): Canzon alla francese 'La Lucchesina'; Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594): Lucescit iam o socii a 4; Claudio MERULO (1533-1604): Magnificat; Adrian WILLAERT (1490-1562): Le dur travail

Sources: [1] Andrea & Giovanni Gabrieli, Concerti di Andrea et di Gio: Gabrieli, 1587; [2] Giovanni Gabrieli, Sacrae Symphoniae, Ioannis Gabrielii ... Senis, 7, 8, 10, 12, 14, 15, & 16, Tam vocibus, Quam Instrumentis, 1597

Violaine Le Chenadec, soprano; Anaïs Bertrand, mezzo-soprano; Marnix De Cat, alto; Renaud Bres, Marc Mauillon, bass-baritone; Marc Busnel, bass
Adrien Mabire, Benoit Tainturier, cornett; Juan Gonzalez Martinez, Arnaud Bretecher, Abel Rohrbach, sackbut; Jean-Luc Ho, organ (soloa)

The name of Giovanni Gabrieli is inextricably bound up with Venice. However, for some time he stayed at the court of Albrecht V in Munich where Orlandus Lassus was Kapellmeister. The latter had a large ensemble of voices and instruments at his disposal, and the splendour of performances at the Munich court must have made a strong impression on Gabrieli. He returned to Venice probably before 1580, and in 1585 he succeeded Claudio Merulo as organist of St Mark's. In the same year he was elected as organist of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, one of the many confraternities which existed across Italy. During their gatherings sacred music was performed, and it is documented that a number of compositions by Gabrieli were written for such performances.

The name of Gabrieli is particularly connected with the practice of cori spezzati, the juxtaposition of two or more choirs. This was by no means an exclusive Venetian practice, but it was more pronounced there than elsewhere. The music had to reflect the pride, wealth and splendour of the city, and the possibilities in St Mark's were such that there were hardly any limitations for composers with regard to scoring. The cathedral had an independent instrumental ensemble with its own director. However, it would be wrong to assume that all the music in St Mark's was performed with a mixture of voices and instruments. The latter were required on 'special occasions' such as the main feasts of the ecclesiastical year and events of a political nature. It seems that the most common practice was performances with voices only, if so desired accompanied by organ(s).

Gabrieli can be considered one of the last representatives of the prima pratica which was dominated by polyphony, in which all the parts were treated on equal footing. It is in his latest works, especially those included in the collection Symphoniae Sacrae of 1615, that we find some traces of the new style, for instance in the declamatory treatment of passages for solo voices. This part of Gabrieli's oeuvre receives much more attention than the compositions published in 1587 and 1597 respectively. These are the sources from which the pieces on the disc under review here are taken. In them we don't find solo episodes, and there is only little text expression. A good example is Angelus ad pastores ait, in which no attempt is made to single out the words of the angel. On the other hand, the technique of cori spezzati is sometimes used to create a kind of excitement, not so much in the treatment of the text but rather thanks to the effects of logistics. Venetian polychorality was strongly inspired by the possibilities of St Mark's anyway. The frequent repetition of 'Alleluia' in the 10-part Surrexit pastor bonus does not miss its effect.

In addition to pieces by Gabrieli we hear four works by other composers. The programme opens with a setting of the Magnificat by Claudio Merulo, who was organist at St Mark's when Giovanni and his uncle Andrea worked there. Adrien Mabire thinks that he had some influence on Gabrieli. The second composer is Adrian Willaert, generally considered the one who was responsible for the development of polychorality in Venice. He was also the teacher of Andrea Gabrieli. Here we hear a secular song, which represents a part of his oeuvre that is probably not that well-known. The third closes the programme: Lassus, whose music Gabrieli had become acquainted with in Munich, composed some drinking songs in Latin. Lucescit iam o socii consists of an independently rhymed series of alternating Latin and French lines. It is scored for four voices, but is performed here with the ensemble split into two, allowing for a contrasting performance and line-up in the alternating lines. Lastly, Gioseffo Guami is represented with an instrumental work. He worked all his life in Lucca, but his compositions are influenced by the Venetian style.

All the vocal items here - with the exception of Willaert's song - are performed with voices and instruments. There can be no doubt about the participation of instruments in performances of sacred music. However, as I wrote above, this was probably not the rule, but rather the exception. From that perspective, this disc is a little one-sided. It would have been nice, if some of the motets had been performed a capella. Whether a battery of instruments is needed in Lassus's drinking song, is another matter of debate. One cannot exclude it, but I tend to think that it is rather unlikely.

Be that as it may, I would emphasize that this disc is a very fine one, especially as here we get some pieces from a part of Gabrieli's oeuvre that is more or less neglected. There is no reason for that whatsoever. These are excellent pieces that deserve to be part of the standard repertoire of vocal ensembles. As I suggested, they can be performed by voices alone. For this project, Adrien Mabire has brought together an outstanding group of singers and players, which delivers entirely idiomatic and often outright exciting performances. If the entire ensemble is in action, the text is often hard to understand, but that was probably not the main concern of Gabrieli anyway. It was one of the reasons why the writing of vocal music started to change around 1600. In the 16th century the demonstration of the splendour and pride of Venice was the main aim of the vocal music written for St Mark's. That comes off perfectly here. That makes the short playing time all the more disappointing.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

La Guilde des Mercenaires

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