Two Voices: Fair Oriana

Morley Canzonets to Two Voices (1595)
voces8 records

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If, like me, you first met Morley’s two-voiced Canzonets as exercises in pastiche counterpoint composition, do not let this blind you to their musical delights. Here they are performed, with both conviction and delight, in four themed groups, each of which also contains other music including new (often rather good) commissions. These pieces contribute not only musical but also textural contrast, which makes the listener’s experience less austere than might otherwise have seemed the case.

The singers have voices which manage to both blend and contrast with each other and they are clearly separated in the recorded mix. This also offers different acoustics for the various elements of the programme beyond what might have been expected from the two venues used. At 10 minutes, Owain Park’s new Midnight poem is by far the most substantial work on the disc. For me, its varied styles did not wholly convince, though others may not feel the same. Similarly, the recorder on one of the parts in Ah Robyn was a definite intruder, as were the rather ‘arty’ breaths. The concluding arrangements of Purcell and Handel are effective in broad musical terms, though given that both composers contributed generously to the vocal duet genre might we not have heard more of ‘the real thing’?

So, not all early music, and not all HIP, but enjoyable anyway. The booklet (in English only) does not include the sung texts, which is regrettable, particularly in the case of the Park commission.

David Hansell

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