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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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Canzon doudecimi toni

Empire Brass and Friends

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In this recording of Sonata pian e forte, the Canadian Brass joins forces with five members of the Berlin Philharmonic brass section to form a double brass quintet. The recording was made in 1984 at Jesus Christus Kirche in Berlin. What strikes me as interesting about this performance is how briskly it moves along compared to other recordings. There's a kind of crispness, both in speed and articulation, not found in the other recordings presented here. Also, the Sonata pian e forte was written for eight players and here they use ten, witch includes two tubas. This initially sounds like it would be very inauthentic, but when you consider that Gabrieli often had an organ double the bass of each choir, maybe using tubas is a reasonable simulation of this added weight. A key feature of this piece is the fact that it was among the earliest to use dynamic indications in the music. This recording clearly observes those markings, without over-blowing the forte sections. They seem to be allowing the acoustics of the church to project their sounds, instead of their own muscularity.

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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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