Striggio Mass for 40 and 60 voices
I Fagiolini’s disc of Striggio’s works for 40 voices (on which the Mass Ecco sì beato giorno was given its premiere recording) won last year’s Gramophone Early Music Award and was widely applauded. Hot on its heels comes another with a strikingly contrasted approach. Eschewing the more variegated plumage of Robert Hollingworth’s ensemble (in which strings and lighter winds predominate), Hervé Niquet and Le Concert Spirituel opt for a fatter, bolder sonority, with 40 singers supported by over a dozen instrumentalists playing cornetts, sackbuts, dulcians and a heavier continuo group. (In the final, 60-voice Agnus Dei, 20 more singers are added.) The playing is slightly looser rhythmically, though never undisciplined: the sense of splendid occasion, of bombastic monumentality is, if possible, more pronounced on the new recording. For what it’s worth, the edition used is different too, for the piece was transcribed about 30 years ago by the countertenor Dominique Visse (who sings on this recording) long before Davitt Moroney identified it as Striggio’s.
What increases the appeal of this programme is the accompanying selection of fine motets by Striggio’s compatriot Orazio Benevoli, himself a specialist of polychoral behemoths, and some settings of plainchants by Francesco Corteccia that mimic the improvised polyphony that was a common occurrence in festive Masses such as that represented here. The accompanying voices sound like a distant wittering, a novel effect such as I have seldom heard on disc. Can lightning strike twice in the same place? Who knows; but this disc certainly merits my personal accolade.