Vespers 1612 (CD review)

Music of Viadana, Gabrieli, Barbarino, Palestrina, Monteverdi, and Soriano. Robert Hollingworth, I Fagiolini. Decca B0016794-02.

Titles are everything, and I suppose this one, Vespers 1612 (or 1612 Vespers if we read it literally), needs a little explaining. The Vespers part is fairly self-explanatory; at least, for those folks who know what Vespers are in terms of music. Just as a reminder, Vespers refer to a late-afternoon or evening religious service. In the Roman Catholic Church, they form a part of the service evenings and often held as a public ceremony on Sundays and holy days, most often containing evensong, a form of worship that’s sung.

OK, the album contains vesper evensong. But what’s the 1612 all about? For one thing, the year 1612 marked the death of the great Italian composer of vocal and instrumental music Giovanni Gabrieli, very influential early on in the musical development of the Baroque age. In addition, it marked the first public celebration of the Venetian naval victory at Lepanto in 1571, a celebration that went on for over 200 years after the incident as the festival called The Feast of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary. (The Venetians figured Mary had a significant influence on the outcome of the battle and, thus, dedicated the festivities and devotions to her.)

Maestro Robert Hollingworth and his award-winning vocal ensemble I Fagiolini have attempted in this album to reconstruct what at least some of the program for that initial celebration might have been like. What we get in the reconstruction are world-premiere recordings of Vesper Psalms by Lodovico Viadana, a composer who helped usher in changes from the Renaissance to the Baroque period; the 28-voice Magnificat by Gabrieli; and a seeming host of other pieces from the era of multi-choir music.

I mean, if you called the album Baroque Vespers, Vol. IV, or, heaven forbid, just Baroque Vocal Music, Vol. CCCXVII, it wouldn’t have quite the same ring, would it? Anyway, the program begins with several short pieces by Viadana (c. 1560-1627), including his setting for Psalm 109 and four others. We notice quickly that Hollingworth and his team have varied the selections considerably, so that we get large groups of singers followed by more-intimate arrangements for smaller groups, even individual voices. They are all lovely and display a wide range of styles.

Bartolomo Barbarino (1568-c. 1617) next contributes Exaudi, Deus, with its stirring cornett solo. There follow more psalms and multi-choir pieces by Viadana, Palestrina, Monteverdi, and Gabrieli, some accompanied, some not, some with soloists, some not.

These all lead up to the centerpiece of the program, Gabrieli’s Magnificat a20, a28. Con il sicut locutus. In ecco, one of a pair of seven-choir arrangements that survive incomplete. Hugh Keyte supplied the reconstruction in this first-time recording. The battle music that constitutes the middle portion comes as a welcome surprise.

The singing itself sounds precisely articulated, yet not without adequate expression. The instrumental and vocal accompaniment, augmented by the English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble and De Profundis (Cambridge), is light enough never to intrude upon the primary voices, and that includes the unobtrusive and almost ever-present organ. For anyone interested in the early Baroque period (or for those who are not, who knows), these multifaceted works with their breadth of expression provide a uniquely moving, rewarding, and often spectacular listening experience. More of an event, actually.

The sound is quite agreeable, recorded for Decca at St. John’s, Upper Norwood, London, in 2012. The engineers capture a fine sense of occasion, with a wide stage, and especially good depth and hall resonance. Occasionally, one notices a very slightly hard, bright, glassy response from closer sounds, but it is not enough to be a problem. In fact, these qualities often provide a more sharply etched definition for the sonics. As it is, we get rich, resplendent voices set in an environment with just the right amount of reverberation to simulate the live space of St. John’s in one’s living room. In short, it makes pleasant listening.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa