The Sixteen / Eamonn Dougan

The Blossoming Vine: Italian Maestri in Poland

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Britain's small choir the Sixteen, now proclaiming itself "The Voice of Classic FM," the country's crossover-oriented classical radio network, has taken an unusual step into late Renaissance repertory that's little known outside Poland, with impressive results. The Blossoming Vine follows a disc of music by native Polish composer Bartlomiej Pekiel that was widely praised. The title of the present release comes from the biblical Song of Songs. The verse does not appear in any of the actual pieces recorded, but the concept might apply more generally to the music included: the three composers represented here were among dozens of Italian musicians imported to Poland by the ruler Sigismund III Vasa. Sigismund was a Catholic, an admirer of the Counter Reformation, and a figure who helped shape the flavor of Polish Catholicism as it has come down to the present day. The composers he hired were followers of Palestrina, and in at least one and probably two cases here actual students of the Roman master, but they were not untouched by later developments in Italian music (these pieces date from the early 17th century). There's one imposing polychoral piece that wouldn't have been out of place in the Gabrielis' Venice (Asprilio Pacelli's Dum esset rex, track 14), and other works illustrate their texts, all of them connected with Mary in some way, with smaller antiphonal effects. The Sixteen bulks up to 17 singers or more here, and they deliver the rich, intricate sound that's necessary for the style without losing the more intimate quality of the music from satellite center as compared to the Roman point of origin. The usual high standard of Sixteen engineering, here executed at the London church of St. Alban the Martyr, is deployed to especially nice effect. An excellent survey of music that will be unknown to most listeners other than the ones who can read the supplied Polish booklet notes.

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