LONDON (Reuters) – A sumptuous first recording of a long-lost 450-year-old Italian Renaissance mass written for 40 different vocal parts has soared onto British pop charts a week after its release.
The recording by British vocal group I Fagiolini of the little-known Alessandro Striggio’s 1566 mass for 40 voices — most masses are written for four — made its debut at number 68 on the pop charts, above Bon Jovi, George Harrison and Eminem.
It was number two on the classical charts, just behind Dutch violinist waltz master Andre Rieu.
“We really worked hard so that there could be a properly magnificent and extravagant sound world for the piece to revel in,” I Fagiolini’s conductor and founder Robert Hollingworth, 44, who thinks the mass has a “mesmeric” quality, told Reuters in a telephone interview Sunday.
“This is not the grainy, black-and-white film, this is the full Hollywood Technicolor. I think that’s why it works so well…it’s like a kind of aural kaleidoscope.”
The mass was performed in several major European cities when it was written but had been mis-catalogued at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris where it was rediscovered a few years ago by musicologist Davitt Moroney, and given its first modern performance at the BBC Proms in London in 2007.
I Fagiolini and their label Decca Classics, a part of the Universal music group, spared no expense on the recording. It uses five choirs and a panoply of period instruments, from trombone-like sackbuts to the 11-stringed lirone, a cello precursor, as well as lutes, recorders and Renaissance strings.
The instruments play lines of music that would otherwise be sung, which Hollingworth said was accepted practice at the time.
The CD release includes a DVD which offers the Striggio mass, plus another 40-part Striggio motet, and English composer Thomas Tallis’s 40-part “Spem in Alium” — written after Striggio’s works, and possibly inspired by them — in surround sound, plus a documentary about the making of the recording.