Vecchi’s Requiem conducted by Björn Schmelzer

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COMPOSERS: Vecchi
LABELS: Glossa
ALBUM TITLE: Vecchi
WORKS: Requiem; plus works by Hèle, D Lôbo, & Ruimonte
PERFORMER: Graindelavoix/Björn Schmelzer
CATALOGUE NO: GCD P32113

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With its talk of euchronic character and meta-disguise, this disc’s liner booklet could fill a few columns of Pseud’s Corner, and some listeners will find Graindelavoix’s unconventional performances equally posturing. The programme is a speculative recreation of the music that may have been sung at the obsequies of the painter Peter Paul Rubens – the Antwerp-based ensemble’s great local here – and its focal point is the starkly beautiful Requiem by Orazio Vecchio (hard to believe that this chromatic outpouring was penned by the same composer as the frothy, satirical madrigal-comedy L’Amfiparnaso).

If you’re familiar with sacred vocal polyphony sung by pure-voiced English groups, these rasping and gravelly vocal timbres could hardly be further removed. Add to that oriental-style ornaments, wailing portamentos (it comes as no surprise to learn that Björn Schmelzer is an ethnomusicologist), and ensemble that is (deliberately) frayed at the edges, and you have some shocking results. The performing style is not exactly new (the Ensemble Organum took a similar approach to its performances of medieval polyphony back in the ’90s) but it’s uncommon to hear it used in this later repertoire. It’s an interesting, and ultimately quite mesmerizing, experiment – the aural equivalent to Rubens’s swirling movement and dramatic sfumato.

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Kate Bolton-Porciatti