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GRAMOPHONE (12/2015)
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King's College

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Reviewer: David Vickers


From 1585 Giovanni Gabrieli was organist at St Mark’s Basilica and also director of music for the confraternity at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, where in 1608 the English visitor Thomas Coryat heard three hours of music ‘so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable…that it did even ravish and stupifie’. Gabrieli’s music can still have the same impact four centuries later, and the range of thrilling sonorities and ceremonial theatricalities in his church music and instrumental – is commemorated in this quadricentenary celebration of two 1615 publications issued posthumously by the composer’s colleagues: seven elaborate polychoral motets, a litany for the Virgin Mary and a grand setting of the Magnificat are taken from the second book of Symphoniae Sacrae, and His Majesty’s Sagbutts & Cornetts take centre stage in four instrumental works from Canzoni et Sonate.


In ecclesiis never fails to generate an awestruck sense of wonder when the brass chords enter after the first few vocal solos and choral ‘Alleluia’ refrains; the soloists Gabriel May (treble), Patrick Dunachie (countertenor) and Toby Ward (tenor) soar angelically, although the resplendent tutti phrases lack imposing majesty, rhythmical vigour and theatrical incision. In some respects, The Choir of King’s College are softer and more consoling than one often hears in this repertoire, but such an unforced solemnity suits the concentrated low textures of the all-adult voices in the 12-part Suscipe, clementissime Deus. The opening of the 10-part setting of Jubilate Deo omnis terra conveys an imperious swagger, with Cleobury’s surprisingly steady tempo not only suitable for the reverberant acoustic of the antechapel at King’s College but also a reminder that St Mark’s Byzantine basilica would have presented similar challenges to its musicians. It was recorded in the round, and audiophiles will be attracted to the Pure Audio Blu-ray Disc, which offers an immersive experience utilising Dolby Atmos technology – but there’s nothing about the conventional hybrid SACD format that will short-change those wanting to luxuriate in the glory of late Renaissance Venice.

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