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GRAMOPHONE (02/2013)
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Reviewer: Fabrice Fitch

Three ensembles combine for belated Gabrieli celebration

As far as one can tell, the 400th anniversary of Giovanni Gabrieli’s death seems not to have attracted much attention, which is a great pity, for how many other Renaissance composers are as instantly recognisable and accessible? This recital focuses on the Sacrae symphoniae that represent his output at its most varied. The two settings of O Jesu mi dulcissime, while not placed exactly symmetrically, function as still centres amid mostly extrovert, festive works, among them the blockbusters Omnes gentes and In ecclesiis, whose monumentality seems to prefigure the early essays of Gabrieli’s pupil Schütz. It is striking that both he and Monteverdi, the two protean figures of the early Baroque, should have responded so personally, and so very differently, to Gabrieli’s example.

For this recording, Ex Cathedra join with one ‘supergroup’ of a Renaissance wind band, formed by His Majesty’s Sagbutts and Cornetts and Concerto Palatino. When all combine with organ continuo, the latters’ tuning gives a special charge to some of those trademark chords. At the same time, the slightly recessed recorded sound seems to me slightly to blunt the acoustic image of some of that charge. But then, this must be difficult music to record, and I’m not sure that I’ve yet heard an all-Gabrieli disc that comes close to the spine-tingling thrill of the live experience. In eclesiis is in this respect a disappointment, because the soloists don’t quite rise to the occasion either. But when Ex Cathedra sing as a choir, as in the extended Litany, even Gabrieli’s most staid oratory communicates with fervour.  

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