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This section is dedicated to the examination of performance practice of Gabrieli's works. I can think of no composer whose name is more synonymous with performance practice than Giovanni Gabrieli. It is hard to think about his music without imagining how it was played in the various organ lofts in San Marco. The antiphonal nature of the music makes it almost impossible to resist the temptation to try to recreate the sonority of San Marco in some way when performing it. There was no iTunes or YouTube in Gabrieli's day, of course, so we'll have to rely on written documentation of original performances (see my essay in the previous section for more information), but we are fortunate today to have many musicians performing Gabrieli's works and making audio and video recordings for us to study and enjoy.

 

The first video is of the Orchestra of the 17th Century performing Gabrieli's Canzona noni toni a 12, along with some lovely images of instruments for which the music was originally written and of San Marco. Throughout the rest of this section are recordings of various different ensembles, along with my comments comparing them. While the differences in these recordings will usually be obvious, they all have one thing in common: a love for Gabrieli's music and a desire to create musically faithful performances. They just go about it in very different ways--some concentrate on reproductions of the instruments used in Gabrieli's day, some focus on reproducing the antiphonal sound through recording practices, and some try to incorporate stylistic characteristics of period instrument performances into their modern instrument performances. As you browse these clips, you'll see what I mean--enjoy!

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This performance of Canzon duodecimi toni, by the Washington Cornett and Sackbutt Ensemble, obviously attempts to create a performance more faithful to the original by using period instruments. Unlike the previous two examples, there are no modern instruments or instruments unavailable to Gabrieli (like the tubas and French horns used in the other recordings). This results in a much lighter, clearer, more homogeneous sound than the recordings on modern instruments. I'm not sure where this recording was made, but it's likely to be a live recording at a performance in a church. The performers still seem to be striving for a "grandiose" sound, but allow the natural acoustics to provide much of it since the instruments were not designed to create the size of sound that, say, a modern tuba could. This brings up the idea that our concept of what exactly constitutes "grandiosity" seems to have expanded with the advent of larger modern instruments. If performances of Gabrieli's music were perceived to have been grand in his day, how would our modern instrument performances of today be perceived?

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This recording, which, incidentally, is the one discussed in the favorable review I quoted in my essay, was made in 1990 at St. John at Hackney in London by Andrew Parrott and the Taverner Consort. The Sonata pian e forte is performed at a noticeably more somber tempo than the previous two recordings discussed, which I find very relaxing and comforting, as if the musicians are taking their time. It is a period instrument recording which clearly intends to come as close as possible to the sound Gabrieli would have heard. What I notice most about this is how much emphasis there is on the dark timbre of the lower instruments, mostly trombones. This one of the works in which Gabrieli was very specific about instrumentation: a cornetto and three trombones in the first choir and a violino and three trombones in the second choir. (Kenton 488) This large number of trombones indeed gives the piece a somber feeling. There is obvious dynamic contrast, but on a smaller scale that the modern instrument recordings. This is due to the limits of the smaller instruments, but is probably much closer to the type of contrast Gabrieli imagined.

 

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This recording of Canzon primi toni a 10, made by members of the London Symphony Orchestra Brass section under the direction of Eric Crees at London's All Hallows Church in 2001, to me, represents the most authentic of the modern instrument recordings. Only trumpets and trombones are used, and the musicians take a much lighter approach to the music, particularly in terms of dynamics and articulation. They are obviously aware of the many fine period instrument performances today and seem to be striving to keep authenticity in mind, even as they use their larger, modern instruments. It is as if they know that the music will be grand-sounding simply due to the forces used, size of their instruments and size of the performance space--they don't have to work hard to make it sound grand, they just have to play beautiful music in a singing manner. I love their approach!

 

The main difference between this and the recording of His magestys Sagbutts and Cornetts is tempo. The LSO players are considerably more brisk.

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The Canadian Brass and Berlin Philharmonic Brass obviously take an approach to their recording of Jubilate Deo that is more purely instrumental.  This is evident in the more forceful, shorter articulations and quicker tempo, both of which give the piece a much less expansive feeling than the previous recording.  It is still enjoyable listening and the musicians seem to be aware of the vocal nature of the piece in terms of phrasing, but it ultimately sounds a bit like how brass players would play a vocal piece in order to make it sound like a brass piece.

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O magnum mysterium

King's College Choir Cambridge,

Philip Jones Brass Ensemble

Stephen Cleobury

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