His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts
Gioseffo Guami is not a household name among EMR readers, then His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts certainly is and any new CD from them will be seized upon eagerly. This recording is no exception and if Guami is a name with which you are not familiar then you soon will be – this is a wonderfully performed CD of some splendid music, dating from the periods that spanned the composer’s apprenticeship under Willaert at San Marco in Venezia, and his colleagueship with Lassus in Bavaria where both the Gabrielis were serving, before a brief spell in his native Lucca. From here he was headhunted to be organist at San Marco in 1588. When neither he nor Giovanni Gabrieli was elected to the top job there on Zarlino’s death he returned to the cathedral at Lucca where he remained till his death in 1611. The cover design of the labyrinth on a pier at the entrance to the cathedral at Lucca is a nice act of homage to this Luchesina.
Much of the music, edited principally by Jamie Savan and a number of his Newcastle students, comes from Guami’s Sacrae Cantiones published in 1585 and his Canzonette alla francese of 1601, reprinted in 1612. Two highly ornamented Canzonas from Raverii’s 1608 collection suggest that the florid ornamentation in other canzonas may well be Guami’s work too: he was a keyboard player, and his improvisatory skills – hardly any published organ music by him survives – would have been an obvious source for such ornamentation. Particularly interesting is one canzona (L’Accorta – track 8) where the second ‘choir’ is given to the organ, whose shadowing and echo effects are delightful, but not entirely successful: this is due not to any lack of skill or musicianship on the part of Jan Waterfield, the group’s keyboard player, but because the organ used is a standard Klop continuo organ and lacks the sweet open principal tone that was the characteristic sound of the Italian organs of the late 16th century. The stopped pipes of the Klop don’t really match the splendid sound of the cornetts and sackbuts, though the ¼ comma meantone tuning is a treat. This is the only slight blemish in an otherwise perfect recording.
The essential group of HMSC is six players – three cornettists and three trombonists; to which an additional cornet and sackbut are added sometimes, together with a ducian and the organ. Many of the canzoni in the 1601 collection with their semi-descriptive titles are in two contrasting choirs with answering echo effects, the antecedents of Viadana’s canzoni which I remember transcribing from a set of partbooks in the Bodleian as an undergraduate. Nicholas Mulroy and Eamonn Dougan join the group for five of the motets (a sixth is performed instrumentally) and a duet, showing off the singers’ ability to sing in a true meantone temperament. In the concerted motets, the contrast between the cori spezzati is more one of pitch – a higher choir answered by a lower choir or vice versa. The pitch is A=466 Hz, and occasionally in the high end of his range the more soloistic Nicholas Mulroy sounds a little to singerly for my tastes in this essentially concerted music, though he is splendid as the only singer in In die tribulationis, where the sensitive phrasing of the instrumental playing reminds me of just why the cornett was prized as the instrument most akin to the human voice.
In this and in other more grave numbers – one canzona is actually called La Grave – the clean, perfectly tuned notes from the instruments – especially Stephen Saunders’ bass sackbut at the end of La Chiarina – are wonderful.
But in all the pieces, we are left marveling at the skill and musicianship of these fine singers and players in presenting us with this beautifully produced taster CD of a composer whose work is of the highest quality and who seems equally at home in vocal and instrumental music. This CD has rapidly become a companion on my journeys, as well as a landmark in how to listen and play together as a wind group in a way that entirely matches the best viol consorts. And just as the viols and voices combination seems the quintessential sound for Jacobean music in England, so this CD of Guami gives us a standard for performing not only music in Venice at the turn of the 16th to 17th centuries, but also for how we might perform the motets and masses of Lassus as well. I should like to hear these forces singing Gabrieli too.
You should all hear this wonderful music. Many pieces are quite short, and the whole CD with 19 tracks is only 61 minutes in length, but they repay frequent listening. Every detail from the tuning to the changes in tempo to preparing for the cadences is well prepared and beautifully executed. I hope there will be much more Guami to come: meanwhile buy this and give it to your friends.
Jamie Savan, director; Nicholas Mulroy, tenor; Eamonn Dougan, baritone; Jamie Savan: treble cornett by John McCann, alto cornett by CyberZink, mute cornett by Serge Delmas, tenor cornett by Christopher Monk; Jeremy West: treble cornett by Matthew Jennejohn; Helen Roberts: treble cornett by Paolo Faniciullacci, tenor cornett by Christoph Shuler; Gawain Glenton, treble cornett by Matthew Jennejohn, alto cornett by Serge Delmas; Adam Woolf, alto and tenor sackbuts by Ewald Meinl; Abigail Newman, alto and tenor sackbuts by Ewald Meinl; Stephen Saunders, bass sackbut by Ewald Meinl; Miguel Tantos Sevillano, tenor sackbut by Egger Instruments; Keith McGowan, dulcian by Graham Lyndon Jones; Jan Waterfield: organ by Henk Klop Orgelbouw, supplied and tuned by Keith McGowan.
Tuning: a=466Hz, ¼ comma mean-tone temperament. Recorded in St. Brandon’s Church, Brancepeth, 26-28 February, 2014.
The magnificent music of Gioseffo Guami is presented on this latest recording by His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts, which features the vocal arts of tenor, Nicholas Mulroy and baritone, Eaamonn Dougan. Jamie Savan has assumed the role of director now and offers excellent liner notes describing the importance of Guami’s music. HBS listeners will hear many similarities to the music of Gabrieli in Guami, and for good reason: Gabrieli knew him in Bavaria and was one of many musicians who enthusiastically recommended Guami for the position of first organist at St. Mark’s in Venice. The present recording is a combination of instrumental and vocal/instrumental works. The word “inspired” comes to mind. This listener finds himself just taking one deep, relaxed breath of air after the next while hearing the recording.
First of all, there is an overall sound which is true for each track: refined, burnished, warm, heartfelt. This is true for slow passages as well as the technical passage. There simply is no “rough edge” anywhere.
The group makes ample use of alto and tenor cornets. They can be heard especially in the Canzon vigesimaquinta and La Guamina. Regarding brilliantly played passagi, interest must be directed to La Battaglia. Generally, pieces with this title are rapid-fire displays of technical virtuosity, often with more accentuated articulation. Not so on this recording. HMSC offers an almost subdued affect which actually makes the technical passages all the more outstanding, but in a truly refined way.
Their performance of La Grave (Jeremy West playing the top part) is exemplary: the height of delicate, thoughtful phrasing—entirely befitting this absolute musical gem. Jamie Savan’s mute cornett playing on La Todeschina is exquisite in its phrasing and shading of dynamics and articulation. Attention should be paid in In die resurrectione to how beautifully the cornetti, especially Jeremy west on the top line, blend with the voices, smoothly weaving in and out, always supporting yet deferring to the voices.
I highly recommend this CD to our HBS members. His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts continue to offer recordings of the highest artistic level. This is a truly noble recording. It is an inspiration.