Isaac: Nell tempo di Lorenzo de’ Medici & Maximilian I

I. Dalheim, K. Mulders, P. Bertin, D. Sagastume, V. Sordo, Ll. Vilamajö, D. Hernández, M. Savazza, Ch. Immler, P. Stas, La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Herspèrion XXI, Jordi Savall
76:06
AVSA9922

I find this disc tiresome. It contains fine music by one of the best composers of his day, performed by capable musicians. Yet if it were a meal, it would come over-seasoned to conceal an underlying blandness. There is too much contrived beauty or animation or suavity at the expense of the music itself – a sort of early music for airports. Bells are so ubiquitous that they become comical in their incongruity. Then to begin dolorous choral works there is the cliché of the funereal drum, beside the rather desperate jollity of some of the instrumental pieces. Sustinuimus is a lovely motet overlarded with an unnecessary accompaniment of assorted winds and strings, bowed and plucked. Innsbruch  is downright slushy, with too many different arrangements crammed into the one piece. Worst of all is Quis dabit  in which the fussy arrangement distracts from the merits of this fine if doleful work: shades of Glenn Miller from the accompanying instrumental ensemble, irritating percussion, fidgety alternating solo and full vocal passages, and tastefully exaggerated lamenting on the part of the singers. Isaac’s music can stand tall without this overindulgent treatment. The two following tracks are cut from the same cloth: more bells bong in the exquisite and undeserving Sancti spiritus, then Angeli, archangeli  rambles on while the sonneur has a field day. And so on, past an achingly, self-consciously beautiful Circumdederunt me  to the final track with the full String of Pearls treatment in the accompaniment, further fidgeting between solo and full choral passages, and enough tings and dings from the sonneur to render Evelyn Glennie envious. In all reluctant humility I entirely understand that many people will find a disc of this sort most attractive, and if it is going to draw folk to Isaac’s music, as presumably Sting’s disc drew folk to Dowland, then well and good; there is room for this sort of presentation, so long as there are recordings of Isaac’s music that let it speak, or sing, for itself, rather than as some in the 21st-century wish to attire it. Oh, noisy bells, be dumb.

Richard Turbet