The “other” Gabrieli—that is, the uncle of the arguably more famous Giovanni—actually was a pioneer of the polychoral style that later came to be associated with Venice’s San Marco, and specifically with Andrea’s nephew. Giovanni’s senior by 20 years, Andrea developed his style influenced by his close friend Orlando di Lasso and through his exposure to music he encountered during a period in Germany, which preceded his appointment as organist at San Marco in 1566. Thus the music on this program, a collection of motets dedicated to Albrecht V of Bavaria and printed in 1565, does not represent that familiar, grand antiphonal brass and choir, nave-crossing chord-fest; but that’s not to say the music isn’t just as grand, or the effect of the harmonic voicings just as stimulating.
Choirs and instrumental groups take on this kind of music all the time, many of whom believe it to be “easy” because of the fairly straightforward form and fundamental harmonic framework. But that’s just the problem: properly realizing this music’s resplendent power and beauty depends on singers and instrumentalists with impeccable intonation and highly practiced ensemble expertise. Happily, this is what we get with the voices of Ensemble Officium and with the cornet, trombones, and organ of the Ensemble Gabinetto Armonico.
Gabrieli was a formidable craftsman who, on evidence of these compositions, didn’t seem to waste even a note; who knew exactly in which voice the third or the fifth of the chord should go; who extended a line just far enough before its resolution. Every piece on this program rewards the listening. And, as explained in the liner notes, in several instances the performers give two different renditions of the same work—one instrumental, one vocal, or two instrumental versions. This is a nod to the practice of the period. And, given the high quality of the music and performances, we just enjoy it—and the sound, from two different church venues, gives fully complementary support. I put this recording in the CD player expecting not to be particularly impressed; but here I am writing about it. It’s a winner.