Cipriano de Rore: Portrait of the artist as a starved dog

Graindelavoix, Björn Schmelzer
75:22
Glossa GCD P 32114

Regular readers of my reviews will have charted my growing disenchantment with the recordings of Graindelavoix, and this latest album does nothing to buck the trend, although perhaps some of the more obnoxious features of previous releases are not as pronounced. In his frankly rambling and idiosyncratic notes to this programme of madrigals by Cipriano de Rore, the group’s director Björn Schmelzer states that they will be presenting the music in its ‘simple form’ as defined by the Renaissance musician Luigi Zenobi. It is certainly the case that they generally eschew extended decorative passagi, but in some of the accounts there is scarcely a note which isn’t bent, wobbled or swooped up to or down from, creating a most unpleasant and unsettling effect. A very close and dense recorded ambiance with a curious tinny after-echo, which recalled Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody or Sting’s unfortunate brush with Dowland, serves to exaggerate the wealth of self-indulgent mannerisms in the singing to the point of obscuring the original music. Rather than ornamenting according to any sort of historical precedent, each of the singers just seems to be doing whatever comes up their back, while vocal production seems to be allowed to range wildly from a pure focussed sound to raw shouting. All this would be more than enough to put me off these accounts, but there are also regular examples of uncomfortable intonation and lack of rhythmical unanimity. On the instrumental front, Floris de Rycker’s ceterone is much too closely recorded, giving it an unpleasant tinny tone, and only the cornett of Lluis Coll I Trulls seems to escape the generally inept recording. The completely bonkers title of the CD, which seems to rely entirely on a link in Schmelzer’s fevered imagination between Dylan Thomas, a portrait of a rather gaunt Cipriano and the starving dog featured in the corner of Dürer’s engraving of Melancolia, seems like an excuse to distort the rather happy world of de Rore’s music into a nightmare of the group’s own warped imagination. I can only hope that only Graindelavoix fans – and there must still be some, I suppose – will invest in this grotesque distortion of the music, while the general listening public will be warned off by the macabre title.

D. James Ross

  • Performance
  • Recorded sound
  • Booklet notes
  • Overall presentation
2.8