United Kingdom Gabrieli: His Majesty’s Sagbutts and Cornetts & Concerto Palatino, Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh, 13.8.2012 (SRT)
The EIF’s early evening Greyfriars series is back this year, and it starts with a bang with a celebration of the instrumental music of Giovanni Gabrieli, 400 years and 1 day after his death. Gabrieli’s most famous music was written for the Basilica of San Marco in Venice where he served as organist from 1585 to his death in 1612. Like other musical directors in San Marco, Gabrieli famously made use of the church’s many galleries to produce great sonic effects, so who better to guide us through his music than the combined forces of these two great Renaissance ensembles, and what better venue than the church of Greyfriars? The kirk, which dates from shortly after the time of Gabrieli’s death, served well for the purpose: the acoustic is more intimate than San Marco, limiting the echo, though it’s a shame that no use was made of the church’s only gallery.
In many ways their selection showed Gabrieli’s music in its glorious diversity, from the grandiose to the light and filigree, to the hauntingly beautiful Domine exaudi of 1597. A lot of the composer’s works are effectively late Renaissance “Songs Without Words”, like motets but played on instruments rather than sung, and sometimes using refrains to unify the work’s structure. Furthermore, the playing was undoubtedly impressive, the rich, sonorous brass of different pitches combining effectively with the perky, occasionally saucy sound of the cornetts. I couldn’t quite shake the feeling, however, that it was all a bit much to take in for an unadulterated hour!
The centre of the programme featured a solo for organ and an ensemble each for the organ with cornetts and with sackbuts. This arrived just in time to leaven the texture, but it wasn’t quite enough to prevent the resurgence of a nagging doubt that the programme could have done with a little more variety, maybe in the form of some singing? This, after all, would have been more true to the pieces’ original use in the church context of San Marco. Still, the experience of hearing the splendid sound gradually dying away in the echoing acoustic of the church remained very moving, and one greatly appreciated by the capacity crowd.
This concert was recorded and will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 as part of the Early Music Show on Saturday 15 September.
The Edinburgh International Festival runs until Sunday 2nd September at a range of venues across the city. A selection of performances will be reviewed in these pages. For full details go to www.eif.co.uk