Classical CD Reviews

A New Venetian Coronation 1595: Music by Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli – Gabrieli Consort and Players/ Paul McCreesh – Winged Lion Records

An excellent remake of an old favorite but I am not sure I’d discard the old one.

Published on September 28, 2012

A New Venetian Coronation 1595: Music by Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli – Gabrieli Consort and Players/ Paul McCreesh – Winged Lion Records

A New Venetian Coronation 1595: Music by Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli – Gabrieli Consort and Players/ Paul McCreesh – Winged Lion Records (Signum) 287, 73:55 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:

In the late 1980s Paul McCreesh recorded his first Venetian Coronation on Virgin Classics. Since then over the years he has continued to refine and research the idea of liturgical reconstruction, focusing specifically on this same coronation service, that of the Doge Marino Grimani on the morning of the 27th of April 1595. The first recording was quite innovative and caused a bit of a stir among the period instrument movement, and in fact was imitated numerous times over the next 20 years. Admittedly there was little to go on in terms of content; a lot of speculation was at play then as well as now. And in fact, the program for this new recording is almost exactly the same as in the Virgin issue.

So why do it again? Well, McCreesh contends that he has learned a lot since then involving pitch accuracy, tuning, rhythmical issues, number of performers to a part, and even instrumentation (shawms are used for the first time here).  He also seems to have revised his polychoral spacing techniques, favoring a sound that is perhaps more intimate than the first, under the idea that the Basilica of St. Mark’s is essentially a “chamber” church that does not allow the vast and expansive types of sounds made so popular by those recordings of Biggs et al, or the early “Festival in Brass” records from Columbia.

In truth this remake is mostly superior to the original. Instead of the tentative and almost apologetic bells that open the first version we get placed in the hubbub of St. Mark’s square complete with crowd noises, fireworks, and outdoor bands prior to entering the cathedral (actually recorded at Douai Abbey in Berkshire, England). Once inside the extraneous noises are dispensed with and the mass proper takes over. Sometimes I think that McCreesh could use a bit more rhythmical vibrancy in some of the alternating duple and triple time passages, and the first version is also a little more upbeat in certain respects; but the sound is deeper and more vibrant here (even though the lack of surround seems really stupid to me on a recording that asks for it as the music of Gabrieli in Venice does) and many of the players who performed on the first appear here also, undoubtedly more secure in their skills than 25 years ago.

Do you need this one if you have the last? Probably not, as the changes here might not be enough to warrant the extra expense, and even the updated “scholarship” on this recording doesn’t mean that it is correct. If you don’t have the old one the new will certainly be ear opening. I’ve now got both, and probably won’t hold on to the old one.

—Steven Ritter




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