A vividly atmospheric and engrossing remake.
Graham Rogers 2012-06-08
With this new Venetian Coronation release, Paul McCreesh follows in the footsteps of other foremost choral conductors including John Eliot Gardiner and Harry Christophers in re-recording for their own independent labels – in this case Winged Lion, a subsidiary of Signum – repertoire which they had originally recorded for major labels. Issued in 1990 by Virgin, the imaginatively realised sequence recreating the coronation service of a Doge at St Mark's Venice in 1595 first put McCreesh and his Gabrieli Consort and Players on the map. Twenty-two years later, they have decided to recreate the recreation, taking advantage of the latest scholarship and recording techniques. So has it been worth it?
The 50 seconds of solitary bell chimes that open the original now sounds down-beat and apologetic in comparison with the eight-minute riot of festive pealing and anticipatory crowd hubbub which ushers in this remake. An audio equivalent of Photoshop cleverly places studio performances of processional wind band music into the joyous cacophony of church bells (presumably recorded in Venice itself, although the notes do not confirm this). It is a realistic effect, placing us right in the heart of St Mark's Square – although it can be a frustrating experience if you want to listen properly to the music, which gets subsumed in the mêlée.
Once inside St Mark's (actually the warmly reverberant Douai Abbey in Berkshire), the distractions disappear. The occasional swish of incense dispersal or hand bell chimes are the only interior sound effects, enhancing the ceremonial atmosphere without impinging on the liturgical plainchant, florid organ voluntaries, majestic trumpet fanfares, opulent brass canzonas, and rich choral singing of music by Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli and their contemporaries. An especial aural delight is the sumptuously rich lower brass of Andrea Gabrieli's Sanctus & Benedictus. McCreesh sometimes luxuriates in this sound too much – Giovanni Gabrieli's Canzona 16 in 15 parts would benefit from greater rhythmic buoyancy – but it's hard to blame him.
Though missing some of the raw enthusiasm and exploratory sense of the original, this vividly atmospheric and engrossing remake is an improvement in almost every other respect.