The Venetian opera composer Francesco Cavalli wrote a good deal of sacred music that has been very poorly represented on recordings. That's a shame, as the mixture of Renaissance stile antico and Baroque continuo practice he cultivated in liturgical pieces like the Requiem mass recorded here, has an expressive flavor all its own. The Requiem in particular is a marvelous work that Cavalli wrote in anticipation of his own demise. He left very specific instructions for its performance, and the problem here is that conductor Alexander Schneider and the Ensemble Polyharmonique feel free to disregard those instructions almost in toto. Cavalli indicated that the work should be performed by all the singers of St. Mark's Cathedral, a growing group that would have numbered at least two-dozen if boys were included; here there are eight. The instrumental ensemble Cavalli asked for included a small orchestra plus no fewer than three organs; here there is a three-player continuo only. You can debate the question of when reduced forces might have been used in Baroque church music, but it's rare that you have exact performance practice indicated by the composer, and to ignore such indications seems odd. Even beyond this factor, the performance here seems absolutely at odds with the grand nature of St. Mark's as a musical space. Sample "Dies irae," and if the chamber-sized conception of that ringing text doesn't make you cringe, who knows, maybe this is for you. For others, though, this will mark a significant overreach of the small-group philosophy that's fashionable in early music circles in 2017. The interpolation of motets by one or more other composers (here it's a group by Alessandro Grandi) is a feature common in performances of masses from many eras, but here again it seems to have intruded upon Cavalli's wishes. The singing is lovely and would have been quite persuasive applied to Buxtehude, but here the performers are simply out of place.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
Sequentia: Preces meae - Inter oves - Confutatis - Oro supplex - Lacrymosa - Pie Jesu - Dona eis requiem