Philippe de Monte: Madrigals and Chansons

Ratas del viejo Mundo
Ramée RAM2004

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This is a pleasant disc, of pleasant music, performed pleasantly by people who, judging by their photograph, are … well, you get the idea. And to be fair, the notes in the accompanying booklet engage to some extent with the problem, which is that Monte – a Fleming born in Mechelen, which is now in modern Belgium – is a very good composer of very good secular music but, perhaps unlike his more substantial sacred music, it lacks that last atom of identity which causes the listener to exclaim “this must be by Philippe de Monte”, rather than variations upon “this is really good!”. Ratas del viejo Mundo (their name means Rats of the Old World, “a HIP rat pack”, based in Belgium pace the Hispanic moniker) consist of four singers S MS C B, two violas da gamba, and their leader playing lutes and guitar. Given sixteen tracks of music that is mainly of a single genre, for three to five voices, the Rats vary their use of voices and instruments from track to track, from lute solo to all four voices, often with viols added, and a few of the longer pieces encapsulate similarly varied resources from verse to verse. Such a programme makes for agreeable listening, with the corollary that there are no truly outstanding items within the prevailing high standard, but equally, nor are there any turkeys. All the voices are pleasant, and the individual singers take their solos well. The instruments blend with the voices and with one another, and the small dose of the guitar comes in just the right proportion to leave this listener, at least, charmingly sated. Much is made of how Italianate Monte is in his madrigals but these come with a Flemish accent, musically speaking, and of course his few chansons here come in pure Flemish. A full detailed list of sources for each work is provided, of which “Library of the episcopal seminary of Gyor …” (in northwest Hungary) for track 10 is the most intriguing. The music is well presented and, if so desired, the programme can be enjoyed, without a break, from beginning to end.

Richard Turbet

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