The music of Giovanni Gabrieli, as we understand it today, has everything to do with contrasting and concerting textures: different vocal ranges, instrumental combinations, and other overt shifts in sonority. Our understanding of this vibrant music has only been amplified by researchers and musicians who have plumbed the boundaries of this composer's intentions. One of the earliest and most influential early recordings of Gabrieli's music has now been re-released on this CD by l'Oiseau-Lyre. In 1977, Gabrieli's music tended to be the province of collegiate glee clubs and brass choirs. Yet the l'Oiseau-Lyre Florilegium label supported a young Andrew Parrott in his efforts to record Gabrieli's music with solo voices and original instruments. This CD offers a crucial window into the roots of the historical performance practice movement. The series of Venetian pieces for polychoral performance are performed in sumptuously authentic sounds, from the excellent (and typically English) intonation to the rich sonorities of the historical brass instruments that undergird the singing. The director carefully balances the textures between solo voices and choral progressions; each singer also demonstrates a solid grounding in the suppleness and the specific musicality of a seventeenth century melody. The underlying instrumental work involves a very temperate ogran continuo and fairly clean brass textures, with judicious and fairly scant ornamentation. Some of the specific voices -- the unmistakable tones of Nigel Rogers and the beautifully piercing sound of Emma Kirkby -- emerge from the musical textures, but the overall balance between solo and ensemble singing sets a standard for early music ensembles for decades (Rogers Covey-Crump and Paul Elliott also feature in the recording). This disc documents a turning point between naïve readings of early music and more mature expositions of the true music behind the music of the past.
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AllMusic Review by Timothy Dickey