Helper and Protector

Helper and Protector
Italian Maestri in Poland
The Sixteen, Eamonn Dougan
Coro COR16141. 67’32

Eamonn Dougan, associate conductor of The Sixteen, continues his exploration of music from Poland with this CD of music by Italian musicians in the late 16th century during the reign of Sigismund III Vasa. Sigismund III ruled the Polish/Lithuanian state at a time of religious upheaval. Raised a Catholic his Polish mother in the Protestant Sweden of his father (the King of Sweden), he soon became involved in the Counter-Reformation, seeking out musicians from Rome to help in his quest.

The most notably of these was Luca Marenzio, represented here principally by his superb Missa super Iniquos odio habui. This is the first complete recording of this work, much of which was thought lost after the Second World War, but had actually been appropriated by the Soviets where it remained until the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Other key pieces are Pacelli’s powerful Gaudent in caelis and Beati estis and Bertolusi’s beatiful Ave verum corpus and Marenzio’s exciting Jubilate Deo.

This is excellent music from a little known period and place in European musical history. With the support of Polish cultural institutions and musicologists, Eamonn Dougan and The Sixteen are to be congratulated on bringing it to a wider audience.

The singing is generally to the high standard expected although, rather unusually for The Sixteen (who are fielding something of a reserve squad on this CD), there is some very prominent and persistent vibrato from at least one of the sopranos, giving it an awkward edginess which distractingly cuts through the other voices, whether in full chorus, or in the more exposed passages.  The focus of the recording also seems to change occasionally between tracks, for example, with track 15 sounded more distant than the preceding track. But don’t let that stop you experiencing this music.

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