|Site review by Geohominid July 20, 2012
Performance: Sonics (MC):
|This is the fifth SA-CD in a series from Audite featuring the former Benedictine Abbey Church of Muri in Switzerland. The Muri Abbey was established by the Hapsburg dynasty in 1087, and in its present incarnation is a multimedia arts centre (Murivision). Its spectacular octagonal church with round-arched bays has four galleries, each with a continuo organ, in a setting of splendid gold rococo ornamentation with many richly coloured paintings and painted glass.
Accommodation for a four-fold spatial disposition of musicians was clearly arranged for polychoral music during the C17th, and for this disc Audite has enlisted Cappella Murensis, an eight member mixed SATB choir, who are a resident part of "Murivision". Accompanying is "Les Cornets Noirs", a flexible group of instrumentalists specialising in Italian and German Early Baroque music. They wield a pair of cornets (covered in black leather and given their German name of "zink" here), a pair of early violins, no less than 6 posaunes (or sackbuts, precursors of trombones), and a pair of violones for bass. Les Cornets Noirs also provide the four organists, two of whom also play the two large Bossart organs of 1743 sited left and right of the altar and called"Evangelienorgel" and "Epistelorgel" respectively.
The musical programme highlights the exchange of music across the Alps from the late Renaissance and Early Baroque, as different artistic styles were developing in southern and northern Europe. A young Heinrich Schütz from Germany spent a four year sojourn in Venice with the famous master of music for St Mark's in Venice, Giovanni Gabrieli. The four large pulpits at St Mark's inspired Gabrieli to develop polychoral music, in which the spatial and tonal effects of the building were exploited to the maximum, especially for state ceremonials and special ecclesiastical feasts. Schütz returned over the Alps and introduced this new style to the North in his 'Psalms of David' in 1619, selections of which alternate in this disc's programme with some of Gabrieli's choral and instrumental music. Much of this music will be familiar from numerous other recordings of polychoral repertoire from the Early Baroque, but the juxtaposition of Schütz and Gabrieli here is apt, and its particular acoustic setting unique.
Sadly, the booklet contains no photographs of the Muri Church, but there is a small cross-sectional architectural plan diagram showing how the four galleries lie at the corners of what internally is an octagon. The galleries are assigned letters A-D, with E representing a position on the Nave floor at the rear of the church. The tracklist indicates for each item the location and composition of the musical forces used, which vary almost item by item.
In assigning locations for instrumental and/or vocal forces, conductor Johannes Strobl takes the word of Schütz himself. In the preface to the 'Psalms of David', Schütz writes that "discerning Capellmeisters are at liberty to organise them (the Psalms etc.) according to the prospects of a particular capell and the qualities of the persons of the same...to produce the desired effect". Doubling of the vocal lines by instruments was an accepted practice, depending on availability of resources. Certainly, plenty of variety in texture and spatial properties on a disc lasting over 73' is essential. Frankly, since both composers frequently employ some stock "boiler-plate" rhythmic and melodic cells, modern continuous programming can become somewhat repetitive and tedious. This would never happen in a historical context, because a more limited selection of the pieces would be performed either in a liturgical setting or for a civic/royal ceremony.
Performance of polychoral works in spatially separated locations is fraught with hazard for performers. Acoustic conditions will unpredictably delay certain frequencies, and instruments "speak" with a certain timing, so synchronization becomes a major occupation. In this case, Strobl conducted from the centre of the church's nave, and as far as I can tell, crisp rhythms and good ensemble predominate. Tuning is also an potential issue, and no particular problems are notable, although there are moments when voice and cornet are not quite in harmony - an unavoidable problem because of the unique temperament used in cornet manufacture.
Audite's 5.0 recording works very well, with good definition of performers' locations and some very impressive sonorities, especially in tuttis; for example the final 'Alleluia' where the two Bossart organs add their considerable weight. Singers are sometimes fairly close, sometimes quite distant, especially in echo sequences; quite effective. At times I wished for height speakers, for example Track 4, where Gabrieli's Canzon quarti toni a 15 have cornets and chamber organ from the left and right front high galleries, while a group of six sackbuts play from the nave floor at the rear. The microphone placing ignores this and places the listener in a hovering position in line with the high balconies!
The booklet discusses some of the recording techniques and states that the recording was made with four microphones, one placed in front of each balcony, with supporting microphones being rejected in order to remain true to the feeling of the church's space. No mention of the centre channel, but there is an ambience signal present. A YouTube video of a session made by REMAudio (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJq6VmUwysU) refers to each balcony having "a set" of microphones, and it can be seen that there are a pair on each of the two frontal high stands. The unidentified representative goes on to describe the REM technique of having the analogue stages, including microphone mixers, at the foot of the mic stands, then converting the signal to optical for low-loss longer distance connections. The result (PCM 44.1/24bit) is striking, one of the most coherent and impressive active multi-channel recordings I have heard. Finding an appropriate volume setting for your system is essential for best results with this disc.
Audite's documentation is exemplary in its detail, despite lacking photos of the location. Apart from listing the musician's "seating" positions for each track as already mentioned, there are dispositions (lists of the stops) for each of the organs, thorough notes on the musical context and a discussion of realisation of polychoral music in a venue such as the Abbey Church of Muri.
A treat for lovers of polychoral Early Baroque music; enthusiastically performed, technically excellent and very well presented. Recommended.
Copyright © 2012 John Miller and SA-CD.net