Striggio Mass set-up seen from Choir III: Choir IV on left, Choir V middle left, Choir I middle right, Choir II right

Why Surround Sound?


Surround Sound is often used to give a more realistic sense of acoustical space than is afforded by stereo: you can hear exactly where the clarinets or flutes are both from left to right and front to back.  This is slightly gimmicky in most classical music but has its uses in the cinema. It is much rarer, though, to be recording music in which the music and performers are actually meant to be surrounding a central listening point: this extraordinary Striggio/Tallis recording is the project par excellence for this medium.

The nature of these pieces, sometimes grand but often intimate, cries out for the listener to be in a completely central listening point as the music is thrown antiphonally from one choir to another until all come together in a dramatic tutti.  This place, central to a closed circle, is the position of honour from which Duke Albrecht V in Munich and Catherine des Médicis at the Chateau de S.Maur, south of Paris, perhaps listened to the work.

It will rarely be feasible to hear the work in concert in this way because of the costs involved.  Through surround sound recording though, the listener can be in that privileged spot.

Although one might have huge numbers of performers in a standard orchestral/choral work, each part is contributing to a section.  In these High Renaissance pieces, there are many parts which need to rise to prominence from the individual choir.  In the stereo picture, the individual choirs are perceived in a semi-circle with (for example in the Striggio mass), choir I left through to choir V right.  But in this stereo position, each 8-part choir can only take up a fifth of that semi-circle, necessarily compressing all 8 parts into quite a small space.  The 5.1 surround sound version on the DVD allows each choir to take its full fifth of a circle, allowing the individual lines to come through more clearly and making the sacred conversation come alive.

Adrian Hunter (producer) and Robert Hollingworth


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