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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 21 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 12
A swim in 4-channel Gabrieli
Arts & Entertainment
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A swim in 4-channel Gabrieli

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Any fan of Gabrieli's music for brass and organ will be familiar with the great 1968 recording by the combined ensembles from the Cleveland, Chicago and Philadelphia orchestras, originally released on Columbia Masterworks LP, now available on Sony CD. It was a very 'hot' stereo recording, perfectly suited to upset my then NYC neighbors. But there was one element essential to Gabrieli (1555-1612) that was utterly missing from that disc: cathedral acoustics.

Now there's a new 4-channel SACD (super audio CD) disc released on the PentaTone label that adds the missing cathedral ambiance. This is a much cooler, more distant, recording, with players often playing from four corners of the Berliner Dom. The spacious sound was part of Gabrieli's conception; thus one could say this new recording is closer to the real deal. However, I found the sound required some getting used to. The ample cathedral ambience (at least a 4-second decay) makes the polyphony much less clear than on the old Columbia recording. I learned to turn the volume down a bit, and, listening in a darkened room, I came to relish the wash of sound surrounding me. Details became clearer, and the antiphonal give-and-take between the players in different parts of the room became more apparent and fun.

The music is all from Giovanni Gabrieli's body of work designed to be played in St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice. Each piece is under about six minutes long. The disc progresses from smaller ensembles all the way up to 26 brass instruments divided into five choirs with organ. Heard on a good surround system, it's a nice swim in multi-directional sounds, with that long decay mixing things up a bit, just as I imagine Gabrieli intended. It takes quite a few hearings before some of the pieces take on individual character, but it is indeed lovely stuff.

While the sound of so many brass instruments can be almost as assertive as bagpipes (which I happen to like), the glory of the cathedral ambience tames it a bit. Even so, I wouldn't listen to it as background to other activities. Gabrieli brass requires head-on attention lest it sound like just a bunch of annoying noise.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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