The polychoral style is associated in the minds of students and casual listeners with St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice and with style spawned by its house composer, Giovanni Gabrieli. But it was not restricted to that time and place. Roman churches invited the style, as well, and hearing the style as it developed in Rome helps the listener get away from an over-linear conception of the transition from Renaissance to Baroque -- the big, polychoral piece was one kind of music a late Renaissance composer might be called upon to write, and even a "conservative" composer like Palestrina is represented here. (Indeed, one begins to wonder whether the huge spaces of Palestrina's music might benefit from performances making more variegated use of physical space.) Clarification of the textures is paramount here, and the 12-voice adult and mixed-gender Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal brilliantly succeeds. A group of that size results in a deployment with just one or two singers per part -- perhaps too small in the few works with specifically designated solo parts, but ideally suited to make you hear the kaleidoscope of contrasts these composers pursued. The music under the direct influence of the conservative Council of Trent is sung a cappella, but later works use a small continuo of cello, theorbo, and positive organ. The singers are marvelously expressive, with vibrato from the women used for intensification but kept under careful control by director Christopher Jackson. Some of the music is familiar, but the three concluding motets of Vincenzo Ugolini, using operatic devices and ornaments in much the same way as Monteverdi, are not so common. This recording was reviewed on a good conventional stereo, not on SACD equipment, so it is an open question whether the SACD recording enabled the engineers to capture a strong sense of spatial separation among the singers -- it does not seem so if one listens in stereo. The overall clarity of the recording, however, is stunning, and this disc marks a real triumph for Montreal's growing corps of historically oriented performers.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Missa Dominus Angeli, for 12 voices & continuo|