Choir of King’s College, Cambridge sing Gabrieli

'You can recreate in your own sitting-room the opulent surround-sound effects that Gabrieli had in mind in the resonant spaces of St Mark's basilica'

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COMPOSERS: Gabrieli
LABELS: King’s College
ALBUM TITLE: 1615: Gabrieli in Venice
WORKS: ‘1615 Gabrieli in Venice’: In ecclesiis; Canzon seconda; Suscipe, clementissime Deus; Hodie completi sunt dies pentecostes, etc
PERFORMER: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge; His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts/Stephen Cleobury
CATALOGUE NO: King’s College KGS 0012 (hybrid CD/SACD & Blu-ray)

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Published 400 years ago, Giovanni Gabrieli’s Symphoniae sacrae are magisterial works designed to show off the extravagant vocal and instrumental resources of St Mark’s, Venice. Nine of these celebrated ‘sacred symphonies’ are here interlaced with lush instrumental pieces from Gabrieli’s Canzoni et Sonate in a sequence that recreates the pomp and ceremony of a major feast day. At the forefront of the English choral tradition since the 15th century, the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge here shows its pedigree. The choral sound is candid and transparent, the lower, adult voices sensitively balanced so as not to swamp the delicate timbre of the boy choristers. His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts offer flawless, vocally-inspired ensemble playing, their plangent wind instruments gleaming and glimmering like the gold mosaics in San Marco. Stephen Cleobury favours stately and reverential tempos that let the music breathe, though the momentum sags rather in the lengthy Litaniae Beatae Mariae Virginis.

Thanks to the latest recording technology (Dolby Atmos), you can recreate in your own sitting-room the opulent surround-sound effects that Gabrieli had in mind in the resonant spaces of St Mark’s basilica. Listeners who prefer a more detailed balance may find the choir a shade distant in the picture, though. There’s another first-rate recording of selections from the Symphoniae sacrae by Ex Cathedra – their performances gutsy and incisive, and with greater variety of vocal timbres; but the young singers of the celebrated Cambridge choir measure up admirably to the competition.

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Kate Bolton-Porciatti