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Frottole: Popular Songs of Renaissance Italy

Ring Around Quartet & Consort
60:06
Naxos 8.573320
Music by Capirola, Cara, Dalza, Festa, da Fogliano, Patavino, Pesenti, Tromboncino, Willaert, Zesso & anon

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]hese performers take a free but ultimately convincing approach to the secular music of Renaissance Italy, singing with relatively ‘naïve’ vocal production and feeling free to introduce glissandi and other vocal effects. The instrumental playing has an attractive élan to it, nicely offsetting the sometimes rather opaque sound of the voices. Notwithstanding the sterling efforts of the performers there is an undoubted sameness to much of this material, and this is undoubtedly a collection to dip in and out of rather than to consume in its entirety as I have to as a reviewer. By the end I felt as if I had eaten an entire bag of dolly mixtures at one sitting!

I did particularly enjoy Atsufumi Ujiie’s winsome way with a recorder and Marcello Serafini’s idiomatic and imaginative guitar contribution. Many Naxos releases of this sort are recorded accounts of live performances, and very often you can’t help feeling that many of them would work better with the theatrical presence of the performers, an element lost in the recorded account. Naxos’s modus operandi often leads performers to record with them in order to have high-quality CDs to sell at performances, and the present CD may well fall into this category, but is nonetheless enjoyable as an independent recording.

D. James Ross

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Rore: Ancor che col partire

Capella Mediterranea, Clematis, L’Acheron, Vox luminis, Doulce Memoire, Choeur de Chambre de Namur
69:50
Ricercar RIC355

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his is somewhat variable. The first of the six early versions of Ancor che col partire, spread through the 19 tracks, makes clear that this was one of the famous adaptations. Other such pieces are included as well, and the seven different ensembles provide variety in style, though I got a bit tired of the automatic quick runs. I also felt a bit awkward in some of the shaping of the singers – though not enough to avoid buying this disc, which marks the 35th anniversary of the label Ricercar.

The booklet is thorough, explaining the importance of Cipriano de Rore (1515/16-1565) as a major composer, though it would be easier if the commentary gave a general introduction then described each piece in order. This is not so much a survey of his madrigals, however, and there’s a gap between no. 6 and 15 with no voices present. It’s worth hearing, but I don’t want to listen to too many such embellishments.

Clifford Bartlett

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Alma, svegliate ormai

Devotional Contrafacta in Italian music during the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries
Anonimo Frottolisti
72:40
Tactus TC 400006

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t may be that I was a little frottole d-out when I came to review this CD, but its exploration of Italian popular music refurnished with devotional texts failed to engage me. The rather trivial and repetitive dance and vocal music seemed largely unworthy of the religious texts fitted to it, and the performances, adequate but uninspiring, did little to convince me of the virtues of unearthing this material. Recorded in an alarming variety of acoustics from the very dead to the quite resonant, the CD cruelly exposes some of the singing as rather amateurish, although the instrumental contribution is generally more convincing. The combination of generally dodgy singing and seemingly endless repetitions of material which is not terribly inspired to start with certainly failed to convince this listener. I’m afraid you will find better performances of most of this material elsewhere.

D. James Ross

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Eros (Renaissance Love Songs) & Thanatos (Plainchant for the Dead)

chant 1450, Ken Zuckerman Indian sarod
68:23
Christophorus CHR77397

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his is a bit of a rag-bag: chant from All Souls’ Day from a 1545 manuscript from Toledo (is that particularly different from other places and periods?) – that’s the death element, interrupted by erotic songs by Enzina (Encina in Grove), with a third element from North Indian art music; surprisingly, I was aware of such music in 1960/61 thanks to a student who visited a very small group and talked and played to a few friends in Cambridge.

The chant lacks any explicit emotion, and the Enzina is hardly erotic – it sounds rather dull in comparison with what I know of him. The sarod has the advantage of vigorous movement. But you will need to be a certain type to make much sense from the CD as a whole.

Clifford Bartlett

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François Ier: Musiques d’un Règne

Doulce Mémoire, Denis Raisin Dadre
143:03 (2 CDs)
ZigZag Territoires ZZT357

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his volume looks more like a book than a pair of CDs, with 132pp including monochrome pictures of the performers, the others being full colour facsimiles of pictures and music. The two discs are slipped into the front and back covers. The first is concerned with the Mass for the Field of the Cloth of Gold. This was a combined event, shared between French and English singers on 23rd June 1520 and led by Cardinal Wolsey and the Papal Legate. It would be interesting to prepare an edition for a celebration of the 500th anniversary which choirs and ad hoc bodies could enjoy, especially if the two nationalities were alternated as in the original. The pronunciation, however, was entirely French. There were eight singers and seven players – the 24 English trumpeters presumably were banned from the Mass.

The second disc is concerned with the chanson (five singers and seven instrumentalists). The section on “women, music, and prohibitions” (p. 28) draws on the usual complaints of women singing in public: “With music the rude peasant lass, who is up before day to spin or weave, wards off her drowsiness and makes her toil a pleasure”! The music, however, is elegant, and presumably not related to peasant lasses. I’d be happier if the discussion of the chansons had been placed together with the sources, texts and translations. As it is, the contents of CD2 are more awkward to read than CD1. These reservations aside, this is an impressive publication.

Clifford Bartlett

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Palestrina: Volume 6

The Sixteen, Harry Christophers
71:23
Missa L’Homme armé, Song of Songs 16–18
+De profundie clamavi, Parce mihi Domine, Peccantem me quotidie, Si ambulavero in medio tribulationis, Super flumina Babylonis, Tribularer si nescirem, Tribulationes civitatum

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Sixteen’s representative account of Palestrina’s music has reached volume six, and sticking to the tried and true formula of programming a handful of motets, some items from The Song of Songs and a Mass setting, they are singing the five-part Mass L’Homme armé with penitential and devotional settings. In the past I have felt that this series has sounded rather passionless, recorded as it seems at a reverential distance, and this CD too seems occasionally a little cold and dispassionate. The penitential motets include some of Palestrina’s most impassioned writing, and these suave performances seem to lack the edge necessary to bring this out fully. It seems odd to single Palestrina out for this rather bland treatment, possibly due to his retrospective reputation as the archetypal composer of flawless Renaissance church polyphony. In a similar way The Song of Songs material seems drained of much of the erotic charge it can be given by a smaller ensemble of voices.

Palestrina’s masterly five-part contribution to the L’Homme armé tradition evokes some attempt at more highly characterized singing from The Sixteen, but again the relatively large forces and the respectfully spacious acoustic take the edge off this account. Don’t get me wrong. These are beautifully sung accounts, perfectly blended and without the operatic wobble which threatened at one point to invade The Sixteen’s lovely sound, and those who like their polyphony to wash around them like an unthreatening warm bath will love them. I found them just too elegant and a little toothless.

D. James Ross

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Salvator Mundi – The Purcell Legacy

St Salvator’s Chapel Choir, Fitzwilliam String Quartet, Tom Wilkinson
61:44
Sanctiandree SAND0001
Blow Salvator mundi, Voluntary in C Boyce O be joyful in the Lord, Voluntary no. 9 Clarke He shall send down from on high Greene Thou visitest the earth Handel Fugue in B flat Humphrey O Lord my God Jackson Hear me O God Purcell I will give thanks, Rejoice in the Lord alway

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his beautiful CD explores music around Purcell, in the sense that works by Purcell are set in a context of music by his predecessors and followers, including the neglected William Jackson. The St Salvator’s Chapel Choir provide assured performances of this tricky repertoire, and (unidentified) soloists drawn from the ranks are also extremely competent in the ever-shifting chromatic world of the 17th-century verse anthem. The authentic Baroque instruments of the Fitzwilliam also make a superb contribution, proving more effective as stand-in viols in the early repertoire than I had imagined, while a subtle organ contribution to the ensemble from Sean Heath and organ solos by director Tom Wilkinson complete the line-up very pleasingly. The choir adapts readily to the progressing style of the music through the programme, and is well-prepared and sings with a lively accuracy and impeccable diction. William Jackson (1730-1803) was rediscovered by Gerald Finzi, and using his transcriptions which are housed at St Andrews University the choir have clearly warmed to this distinctive and largely unknown voice in English music, a voice which on the evidence of this recording deserves to be more widely performed. These young singers have distinguished themselves in what is clearly the first recording on their in-house label, which deserves to be the first of many.

D. James Ross

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Cynthia’s Revels

The Flautadors
65:10
First Hand Records FHR36
Music by Aston, Bevin, Byrd, Dering, Dowland (incl. arr. Morley!), Farnaby, Alfonso Ferrabosco II, Holborne, Morley, Tye & anon

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n Cynthia’s Revels, a play by Ben Johnson, Queen Elizabeth I was represented as Cynthia, the virgin goddess of the moon. It included songs and dances, both of which the queen is known to have greatly enjoyed, so the Flautadors have used this theme to present a programme of instrumental music which might have been heard at Elizabeth’s court.

The players have made their own arrangements for recorder consort, sometimes combining more than one version of a tune, adding Van Eyck diminutions to the Dowland Lachrimæ pavane and combining the Byrd and Holborne versions of The Queen’s Almain. This is a well-planned CD, with music flowing comfortably from one track to the next. The Flautadors, sometimes joined by a fifth player, Leo Chadburn, play with poise and precision on a set of renaissance recorders made by Thomas Prescott based on 16th century instruments in the Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Victoria Helby

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Il Trionfo di Dori

The King’s Singers
72:46
signum classics SIGCD414

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his charming account of the Gardano publication of 1592 of madrigals composed by all the big Italian composers of the day, dedicated to Leonardo Sanuda and written in honour of his wife, Elisabetta Giustinian. Like a precursor of the Triumphs of Oriana, one has the sense that the composers are vying with one another, a dynamic which always brings out the best in musicians. At any rate it is fascinating to hear the greatest musicians of the day rub shoulders with men who are now largely obscure, but who in the charmed world of the madrigal seem very much their equals. The King’s Singers are on top form, singing with a sunny freshness appropriate to this happy music, blending beautifully, and moving as one into crescendos and decrescendos, ranging in dynamic from a whispering pianissimo to declamatory episodes of high drama. In choosing a ‘domestic’ acoustic, they are undoubtedly reflecting the ambience for which this music was intended – I would have preferred a tiny bit of distance to allow the sound to bloom a little more. However there is no doubt that Elisabetta would have been as delighted with this recording as we hope she was with her exquisite gift of a stunning printed collection of madrigals by some of the finest composers of the genre.

D. James Ross

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Cantar de Amor: Juan Hidalgo and 17th-century Spain

Juan Sancho T, Accademia del Piacere, Fahmi Alqhai
56:42
Glossa GCD P33204
Music by Falconieri, Guerau, Hidalgo, Marín, Romero & Sanz

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]nother fine recital culled from the riches of 17th-century Spanish sung drama, enjoyably interspersed with elaborately – and stylishly – realised instrumental fantasias. The lion’s share of the vocal items are by the great Juan Hidalgo and range from the teasingly delightful ‘Trompicavalas Amor’ and the mocking ‘Ay, que me rio de amor’ to the lovelorn intensity of ‘Esperar, sentir, morir’; I haven’t been able to get the plangent refrain of the latter out of my head since!

Juan Sancho sings with much dramatic intensity – try the Romero ‘Ay, que me muero de zelos’ with its anguished exclamations, or the Recitativo a lo humano ‘Rompa el aire en suspiros.’ Fahmi Alqhai and his fellow instrumentalists provide spirited accompaniments and shine particularly in their dazzling improvisations. The opening Passacalle a tre is a good taster.

The exemplary sleeve notes, as one has come to expect from Glossa, provide scholarly background and commentary, along with the (essential) texts. One hopes that more of this repertoire might be forthcoming; it would be fascinating to explore further the dramatic contexts of the vocal items.

Alastair Harper

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