Pekiel: Missa Concertata La Lombardesca (CD review)

Also, Ave Maria, Audite mortales, Missa a14, and others. Eamonn Dougan, The Sixteen. CORO COR16110.

Most fans of early music will recognize The Sixteen, the choir and instrumental group formed by Harry Christophers in 1979 and specializing in tunes of the Renaissance, Baroque, and early Classical periods. What early music fans might not recognize so readily is the name Bartlomiej Pekiel (fl. 1633-1670), a prominent Polish composer of choral music in the seventeenth century who has today obviously gone out of style. Nevertheless, under the direction of singer and conductor Eamonn Dougan, The Sixteen here perform several of Pekiel’s few surviving compositions for choir and instruments, providing a fascinating glimpse into the music of a long-gone era.

Pekiel was the first non-Italian to rise to the position of Royal Maestro di Cappella, and as the disc’s booklet notes explain “set a benchmark for all native Polish musicians.” Mostly, he worked in the liturgical field, which we would expect, writing masses and such.

On the present disc, The Sixteen’s Associate Conductor Eamonn Dougan leads the group first in several selections from Missa a14 (the Kyrie and Gloria, the only surviving parts). There follows a series of other songs, motets, and dialogues, including select items from Missa Concertata La Lombardesca.

Frankly, much early music sounds alike to me, my being no expert in the field, and the fact that many Italian Baroque composers probably influenced Pekiel doesn’t make it any easier. Besides, to me most current pop music, rap, and jazz all sounds alike, so what do I know? The important point is that The Sixteen perform all of this music from Pekiel with an elegant touch. The soloists meticulously execute their parts; the divisions of the choir blend in a honey-like fusion; and the instrumentalists provide an unobtrusive yet often virtuosic accompaniment.

Among the various tunes on the program, certainly the Audite mortales stands out for its magnificent combination of voice sextet, solos, and instrumental ensembles, the music floating lightly overhead like the most delicate of petals on a breeze. It is strikingly attractive, singing and playing of the highest order.

Other highlights for me include Dulcis amor Jesu, O adoranda Trinitas, and the exquisite motet Ave Maria, with their wonderfully colorful and varied textures. In all, the album is another success for The Sixteen, who make one wonder if it’s really the music of Pekiel or the graceful manner in which The Sixteen present it that is more important. Not to diminish Pekiel in any way, but I rather suspect that The Sixteen could make the listings in a telephone book sound good.

Producer Raphael Mouterde and engineers Mike Hatch and Andrew Mellor recorded The Sixteen at St. Silas the Martyr Church, Kentish Town, London in October 2012. They couldn’t have done a better job. The sound is warm and smooth, the instruments showing good separation, body, and detail; the voices truthful, with no brightness, forwardness, or edge to them. The engineers miked the tunes at a moderate distance, offering an ideal perspective and depth of image. This is sound you could listen to all day, the kind that no matter how loud you play it, it never appears anything but natural. Incidentally, if the name Mike Hatch seems particularly familiar to you, it’s because he’s spent decades engineering these kinds of realistic-sounding records; this is a first-rate job all the way around.

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa