Canzoni Per Sonare

Canzoni Per Sonare con ogni sorte di stroment, Venice, 1608, Giovanni Gabrieli and his contemporaries
by His Majesty’s Sagbutts and Cornetts, with the Purcell Quartet and Chordophony

Label: SFZ Music  SFZM0209 LC-18271
Recorded: November 28-30, 2007, in the church of St. John the Evangelist, Upper Norwood, London

On seeing the publication of yet another Giovanni Gabrieli recording, the seasoned brass player will probably wonder why anyone has bothered. In this particular case it is the much smaller and easy to overlook subtitle “and his contemporaries” that justifies not only the existence of this recording but also its purchase. As familiar as most of us may be with Gabrieli’s music, there remains a vast amount of instrumental music by other Venetian composers c. 1600 that is completely unknown – that is, until now.

His Majesty’s Sagbutts and Cornetts, together with the Purcell Quartet and Chordophony, have recorded a single event in music history: the 1608 publication by Alessandro Raverii of 36 “canzonas for playing with all sorts of instruments, newly collected from various most excellent musicians.” They have selected 25 of these for the present recording, with a dozen different composers represented. Among these are five “old standards” by Gabrieli and three by Frescobaldi. The remaining tracks are by relative unknowns such as Pietro Lappi, Gioseffo Guami, and Claudio Merulo. The mixture of unknown and standard works gives listeners the chance to experience new pieces without sacrificing the old favorites. The inclusion of a variety of ensembles – the “brass” of cornetts and sackbuts, solo and accompaniment harpsichord and organ, viols, and lute quartet – similarly aids in avoiding the inevitable sonic monotony of continuous imitative brass works that even share the same opening rhythm. One can listen to the CD in its entirety without feeling like a single track is being repeated; no small feat for this repertoire.

The performances on this recording demonstrate, on the whole, outstanding artistry by combining virtuosic playing with interesting interpretations. The opening track, Gabrieli’s well-worn “Canzon Vigesimaottava a 8” sounds as fresh to me here as it did the first time I heard it on the famous Philadelphia/Chicago Brass rendition so long ago. His Majesty’s Sagbutts and Cornetts play it with a fine sense of pulse and mensuration and their tempo changes between sections are seamless. Their embellishments are tasteful and mesh well with the ensemble. While they play with a small and fairly quiet tone, the loud sections still resonate with power. The inclusion of organ, well balanced with the ensemble, adds a depth and foundation to the work to which I am unaccustomed. Each of the other participating ensembles plays quite well and are enjoyable to hear. One small complaint is that the lutes seem a bit too committed to the metronome (on Lappi’s Canzon Vigesimasesta "La Negrona" for example), at least for my taste. The organ playing is outstanding, though the historical tuning of the instrument might strike modern listeners as a bit strange. The solo harpsichord playing is anything but mechanical, and the instrument itself has a delicate tone that is not tiring to hear.

While the CD itself is obviously worth the purchase, an added benefit is that the ensembles have produced a set of modern performance parts for all of these pieces, available from their website. This means that college and amateur ensembles will be able to enjoy the music first-hand.

-- Bryan Proksch, McNeese State University