Striggio Mass in 40 Parts
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Celebrating the rediscovery of a long-lost mass in forty parts - a feast of Renaissance choral music from Italy and England, the album (and bonus DVD) reveals a work by the Italian, Alessandro Striggio – believed lost until the recent discovery of vocal parts, in Paris. Striggio travelled extensively to the courts of Europe and it was probably a performance during his visit to Elizabethan England in 1567 that inspired Tallis to write "Spem in alium", which is performed here with rarely heard instrumental accompaniment and the benefit of a major piece of textual change reinforcing the message of forgiveness.
The DVD includes a short documentary about the rediscovery of the mass, as well as excerpts from the recording in 5.1 Surround Sound.
I Fagiolini is an acclaimed British solo-voice ensemble specialising in Renaissance and Contemporary music. Inspired programmer, Robert Hollingworth, founded the group in 1986.
“There is nothing ordinary about a performance by I Fagiolini. These singers have made their reputation by turning their backs on convention” (The Guardian).
“Beautifully performed by I Fagiolini with soloists and countless continuo parts, the polychoral effects are striking ... a masterpiece.” (The Guardian)
“Its impact in this premiere recording by the voices and period instruments of I Fagiolini under Robert Hollingworth is terrific ... Tallis, in a healthy show of one-upmanship, devised much trickier part-writing for Spem in alium, as anyone who has sung it will know, but the two works complement one another perfectly.” (The Daily Telegraph)
“Subtle and moving” (The Observer)
“A powerfully affecting landscape” (The Independent)
“Enough to test anyone’s hi-fi equipment” (The Times)
“40 voices hitting you beautifully left and right” (The Times)
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Although this work comes before the similarTallis work, and it seems as if Tallis was influenced by this work, both works are very similar. The booklet notes say that Striggio avoids scholastic counterpoint, whereas Tallis uses counterpuntal fugues which require unprecedented dissonances while Striggio's work is full of "Italinate sauvity". For the average listener however both works sound very similar. The choral singing is quite good and the performance is very good overall. If you love the Tallis work you'll love this work. I don't love the Tallis work and don't love this work either. The motets are similar to Monteverdi motets. Overall the effect of this disc is narcotising.
Hollingworth splits the singers in this 40-part mass into five choirs of eight singers. These choirs then have what Hollingworth describes as a “sacred conversation” with each other – sometimes singing individually, sometimes in pairs or groups and sometimes all together.
For this recording Hollingworth decided to add instruments to the choirs. He does this by having different groups of instruments with the different choirs so, for example, one choir is accompanied by viols, one by lutes and one by sackbuts and cornets, etc. It helps tremendously differentiate the choirs from each other, as each one has a slightly different sound. Tallis’s more famous Spem in Alium is also on the recording and here also features instrumental accompaniments which make it sound quite different from the usual a cappella version which is generally heard and recorded.
Musically the Striggio is much simpler than the Tallis. The harmonies move in much slower sequences and there aren’t any of the real dissonant moments as in the Tallis work. Striggio’s Italian style, is more intricate and ornate (particularly in the inner parts), and the mass of sound, particularly in the concluding 60-part Agnus dei is stunning.
The DVD is absolutely useless if you don't have surround sound. The documentary part repeats most of what was said in the booklet notes.
The shorter pieces are superbly executed with a novel piece from the great astronomer Galileo's father.
The CD ends with a version of the Tallis masterpiece Spem in Alium for choir and instruments. Personally I prefer the version on the collected works by the Chapelle du Roi but nonetheless once again top marks for an ingenious interpretation.
If you are a fan of Renaissance music this CD is a must for your collection. The accompanying DVD gives good background information on Striggio, the mass itself and the making of the CD. Robert Hollingworth says you should not compare Striggio to Tallis just as you should not compare coffee to wine. I had never thought of it that way but I reckon he is right. Two different styles in a golden musical era.
The programme notes and texts are clear, well-written and very helpful.
The various works performed are beautiful and spectacular in their presentation. Given that much of the works are in the multi-layered parts for such ensembles, the technical staff had their work cut out for them but with concentration the various choirs and musical groupings are their for us to listen to and marvel.
The Striggio Mass is a find indeed and extraordinary to hear.
As much as I continue to be in awe at the Tallis 40 - part motet Spem in Allium, I have reservations about this performance with instrumentalists, they seem to intrude and disguise the true musicians who are the singers themselves and the human voice.
The added DVD is a bonus and yet, I wish it had been more informative about Striggio and the work, but that's is a small moan about what is a brilliant CD.Striggio Mass in 40 Parts