Monday, July 03, 2006

The Glory of Gabrieli

Sony Classical should be commended for their new "Great Performances" series. Granted, the Yo-Yo Ma Bach cello suites didn't really need a rerelease, but the Columbia Bruno Walter Das Lied, the Ormandy performance of the first Cooke completion of the Mahler 10th, and a few other discs probably did need a rerelease. I appreciate the marketing side of this game, but as more and more labels get snapped up in mergers, it is nice to see the back catalogues reemerge.

The Glory of Gabrieli is a 1967 E. Power Biggs "stereo spectacular." Biggs had a pet project in the 1960s of playing the works of various composers on organs that they themselves might have played. In this way, he really does prefigure the HIP crowd in a big way. Helmut Walcha, an organist that I really do admire, did much the same thing for his Bach cycle on DG Archiv. For his Gabrieli disc, he went to St. Mark's in Venice. Unfortunately, the St. Mark's organ that Gabrieli would have played was no longer extant, so he had a Rieger hauled in to stand in the same spot. Wonderful. Grand. The two choirs, two instrumental ensembles, and organ make this a fun recording. Church music, to be sure, but still fun. This is the sort of record you put on when you want your music big.

Gabrieli, along with Monteverdi, is one of those composers who allegedly ushered in the Baroque from the Renaissance. His stuff is interesting; not as revolutionary or powerful as Monteverdi, though. Still, hearing these grand polyphonic pieces in St. Mark's makes his music seem whole. This would certainly be a nice way to pass the time for the Venetian nobility while the patriarch does his thing at the altar.

This disc takes a sort of programmatic view: an organ improvisation, a motet, another organ piece...wash - rinse - and repeat. Thankfully, there isn't plainchant between every piece, as the liturgical exponents were still in school when this disc was cut. It is also an example of Baroque music not played a la the HIPsters. This should serve as a reminder that there was Baroque music before everyone got all weird about A'=440 Hz, performance documentation, and proper instruments. When the brass begins their chorale in the "Sonata in the 9th tone for 8 parts," all that seems like a bunch of pedantic malarky.

Buy the damn disc.


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