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Accompanying the disc are exceptionally detailed booklet notes by Robert Hollingworth and Hugh Keyte (who I’ve heard described as Gabrieli’s representative on earth). I had not expected to learn quite so much about Benevoli, nor the context in which he worked – ranging from his exquisite word-painting to the acousticchanging Bernini bronze installed in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome in 1634. I particularly welcome the notes from Hollingworth; here we learn that the Mass has been performed down a fourth from written pitch, and the reasons for doubling instruments beyond timbral splendour, with information about payment for extra singers and players on feast days in Rome.
Benevoli’s Mass is remarkable. Here are two moments that trap me in sonic bliss. First, there’s the final two minutes of the Kyrie, awash in gloriousness. The singing is engagingly vital; there’s muscle but suppleness, and the juxtaposition of solo sections and tutti edifices is somehow both subtle and shocking. Upon repeated listening, instrumental details emerge as fundamental to the overall effect – a cornett searing like Italian sunshine, and Christopher Suckling’s raspy bass violin cutting through the vocal wash. Then there’s the pacing of the Agnus Dei and its deep-rooted tactus of iceberg strength. How this builds without warning but also utter inevitability is magnificent – music not so much as a temporal structure, more as a sensation, a spell. All the while the intricate plucking of harp and archlute provides a delectable texture to the sheen. A final bravi to recording producer and engineer Adrian Hunter and Dave Rowell for capturing that which my words can only gesture towards: musical magic.
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