Wednesday, May 22, 2024

London Oratory Schola Sings Gems from Venice: The Latest Fantastic Album by Charles Cole

It is a splendid thing to compile and record an album of late Renaissance Venetian choral music, especially since the ordinary forces of parish choirs (and even cathedral choirs) can only occasionally muster enough musical forces to mount this mostly polychoral repertoire. There is certainly much to choose from in the programming, for the end of the 16th century and beginning of the 17th witnessed a prodigious production of masterpieces emanating from the lofts of St Mark’s Basilica, many of which had a profound effect on the course of Western music history as it evolved into the various Baroque styles.
Even more splendid, however, is to produce an album with such an interesting and varied program, sung magnificently entirely by choristers brought up from within the ranks of just one school in London. 
We find such an album in the recent Sacred Treasures of Venice, released on the Hyperion label, with NLM’s own Charles Cole directing the boys of the London Oratory Schola Cantorum - no hired ringers here! Featuring the music of three Giovannis (Bassano, Croce, and Gabrieli), alongside the older Gabrieli (Andrea), Claudio Merulo, and Giacomo Finetti, this album draws together compositions which run the gamut of affective expressivity, and compass conventional harmonies as well as daring experiments in late Renaissance voice leading. The honesty of the sound accompanies the wonder of what the boys can produce under so able a tutor and conductor as they have in Mr. Cole. 
Some of my favorites on the album are Croce’s In spiritu humilitatis, a setting of the prayer from the Offertory of the Mass, with its earnestly homophonic setting of the text, a fitting musical offering to accompany the sacrifice offered at the altar by its priest composer. 
In spiritu humilitatis et in animo contrito suscipiamur a te, Domine: et sic fiat sacrificium nostrum in conspectu tuo hodie, ut placeat tibi, Domine Deus.
In the spirit of humility and with contrite heart, may we be accepted by Thee, o Lord, and grant that the sacrifice which we offer this day in Thy sight may be pleasing to Thee, o Lord God.
And, of course, there is the masterpiece O quam suavis Giovanni Gabrieli, which paints the text in a harmonically sophisticated manner.
O quam suavis est, Domine, spiritus tuus,
qui ut dulcedinem tuam in filios demonstrares
pane suavissimo de caelo præstito,
esurientes reples bonis,
fastidiosos divites dimittens inanes. 
O how sweet, O Lord, is thy spirit,
who, to show thy tenderness to thy children,
feedest them with thy sweetest bread from heaven,
feeding the hungry with good things,
and sending the disdainful rich away empty.
I had the opportunity to chat with Charles about the album’s music, composers, and singers on a recent episode of Square Notes: The Sacred Music Podcast, which includes some clips from the album. Do give this latest album in the Sacred Treasures series produced by the schola a listen—it is inspiring in every aspect. 

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: