Celebrating wild and wonderful early music is the mission of Britain's excellent I Fagiolini, led by Robert Hollingworth. Last year's world premiere recording of Alessandro Striggio's enormous 40-part Mass, paired with another larger-than-life piece, Thomas Tallis' 40-part Spem in Alium, became something of a sleeper hit, scoring surprisingly big sales and winning a Gramophone Award.
For their follow-up, I Fagiolini (yes, the name means The Beans) mine a similarly esoteric and yet gloriously rich musical vein: lost and little-known Italian works from the late 16th and early 17th centuries, framed around the conceit of a Vespers service commemorating a Venetian naval victory in 1571. The album includes the world premiere of Lodovico Grossi da Viadana's Vesper Psalms for four choirs, a reconstruction of Giovanni Gabrieli's Magnificat and a "reconstitution" of Gabrieli's In Ecclesiis into a larger configuration than it has come to be heard before. Discovering music by Viadana, a one-time colleague of Claudio Monteverdi in Mantua, is a particular pleasure. Viadana's work is filled with clever voicing ideas and lovely melodies.
A great deal of detective work and musical engineering was involved in reconstructing the Magnificat. Though Gabrieli called for 28 separate parts, only eight still existed. Musicologist Hugh Keyte, Hollingworth and the ensemble took on the mission of filling out all the missing material, and the result is skillful and convincing, at least to a layperson's ear. (For the musicologically minded, Keyte has made his reconstructed scores of Gabrieli's Magnificat and In Ecclesiis available for free download.)
The immense satisfaction of this recording comes in partaking of an imaginative sonic feast brimming with voices, brass, organ, strings and lutes. (Alas, Hollingworth and his players don't include the bells and cannon fire that Gabrieli may have called for within the Magnificat, along with a parade of captured Turkish standards; instead, they settle for a trumpet call and some wind instruments.) But along the lines of last year's Striggio recording, the Gabrieli Magnificat is all about luxuriating in glorious, gargantuan waves of sound — and that's what you'll return to, again and again.