Gabrieli: Canzonas and Sonatas from ‘Sacrae Symphoniae’ (1597)

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Canzonas and Sonatas from ‘Sacrae Symphoniae’ (1597)
PERFORMER: His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts/Timothy Roberts (organ, moderator)
Do record producers ever consider how much scholarly research on an early-music project might be wasted when it is finally presented on CD? These masterly performances are alive with authentic detail, yet one serious problem, canzona fatigue, is self-inflicted. Playing 14 of them, one after another, outside their liturgical context, is possibly as unfaithful to Gabrieli’s intentions as playing them on modern instruments. The authentic yet wonderfully unfeasible solution would be to record entire Latin Masses using these pieces as incidental music.


This recording, like those on modern instruments, provides variety in a number of ways. Some improvisatory organ solos allow complete breaks from wind music and, by including strings in the more florid canzonas, a real change of texture is achieved that would be impossible within a modern brass ensemble. Assembling such large forces of expert sackbut and cornett players for the larger canzonas is rightly claimed as a coup. It is a rare and unforgettable sound. Yet it is in these huge polyphonic textures that corrupted modern ears may hanker after the focused sound that trumpets and trombones can lend to the inner parts in contrast to the diffuse tone of alto and tenor cornetts. Christopher Mowat