Brilliant Classics are doing heroic and noble service by bringing large collections of works to the public fore at bargain-basement prices. This is my first opportunity to sample one of their Hybrid SACDs, and I must say that based on this disc, if it is indeed representative, they do SACD as well as anybody. And the price—well, at $10.98 this is simply astounding. Only the Sony/BMG Living Stereo series can compete with this, and those are of old, albeit remastered, recordings. Even once super-cheap Naxos jacked up its prices for SACD and DVD-A.
The 28 members of the Chamber Choir of Europe are taking second place to none in this recording. Well, if truth be told, I have heard greater renditions of much of the music before, scattered across a variety of recordings across a wide number of years. But these folks have nothing to be ashamed of, and the notes to this release tell us that they have recorded the complete sacred choral works of Mozart and Mendelssohn and a slew of other pieces that have sold over one million copies worldwide (can you spell royalties?). The music is given in fine fashion, and though the excellent acoustics of the crypt church of the Speyer Cathedral cannot possibly rival the gargantuan spatial splendors of St. Mark’s basilica in Venice, there is good decay time, very nice separation of voices on each channel, and an enveloping and comforting warmth to the sound.
It is a fairly ecumenical program based on St. Mark’s alumni, most notably of course the father and son team Gabrieli. But it was the Flemish master Adrian Willaert, already hailed as one of the best composers in Europe, who first came to St. Mark’s, and it was his 35 year tenure that created what is now know as the Venetian school. This group of composers and music directors had the unique privilege of composing music to actually suit the characteristics of a particular building, and by taking advantage of the many and sundry quirks of the basilica, were able to transform it into music of unheard of parts and spatial orientation that simply astounds us today, and has never been equaled in terms of the functional force of a choral sound and surround experience.
So for the price, performance, and sensual allure of superb music, even if you have a fat and sated Venetian collection already at home, if you love SACD you simply must acquire this disc—and it’s still not a bad deal even if you have only standard CD.
Giovanni Gabrieli: Dolce nemica mia
Adrian Willaert: O bene mio
Giovanni Gabrieli: Alma corte s’e bella
Johann Grabbe: Cor mio
Hans Nielsen: Deh dolce anima
Mogens Pedersøn: T’amo vita
Giovanni Gabrieli: Kyrie eleison; Fuggi pur se sai
Andrea Gabrieli / Giovanni Gabrieli: In nobil sangue
Andrea Gabrieli: Alla battaglia
Giovanni Gabrieli: Amor dove mi guidi
Andrea Gabrieli: A le guancie de rose; Gloria
Claudio Merulo: Sanctus; Credo aus der Messe Benedicam Dominum; Hodie Christus natus est; Agnus Dei
Giovanni Gabrieli: Omnes gentes plaudite