Page Text

Click on a CD cover to buy from Presto Classical

Early Music



Lagrime di San Pietro Gallicantus / Gabriel Crouch Signum F SIGCD339 (53’ • DDD • T/t)

Recordings of Lassus’s late masterpiece have appeared at reasonably regular intervals since the 400th anniversary of his death in 1994. I was very impressed by Gallicantus’s previous disc last year (enterprisingly devoted to Byrd and his lesser-known contemporary Philippe de Monte – 10/12); and, with the all-male ensemble on its current form, the new arrival is a strong contender in a small but select field. The sound image is compelling on its own terms, with the homogeneity typical of ensembles with countertenors on the top lines. But it’s a flexible interpretation nonetheless, for Gallicantus have grasped that which not all their predecessors have: despite the biblical provenance of its plot (which tells of the remorse of the Apostle Peter following his triple denial of Christ on the night of the latter’s arrest), the Lagrime di San Pietro is a madrigal cycle first and foremost. Tempo in particular can and should be treated flexibly, in response to both the rhythm and the meaning of the words, but also to the breaks, pauses and contrasts of the narrative.

They do this very well: when the final movement arrives, the listener truly grasps, in turn, that it is not with a madrigal but with a motet that the cycle ends. As with the Ensemble Vocal Européen under Philippe Herreweghe 20 years ago, details are tellingly lingered over, repetitions properly emphasised and the score’s illumination of an inner drama sensitively rendered. The odd glitch of intonation (very rare, in truth) is a negligible price to pay for such an involving experience. Fabrice Fitch Selected comparison: Ens Voc Européen, Herreweghe (8/94) (HARM) HMC90 1483

Machaut ‘Songs from Le voir dit’ Plourés dames. Dame, se vous n’avez aperceü. Ne que on porroit. Sans cuer dolens. Longuement me sui tenus, ‘Le lay de Bon Esperance’. Dis et sept, cinq. Puis qu’en oubli. Quant Theseus/Ne quier veoir. Se pour ce muir Orlando Consort Hyperion F CDA67727 (64’ • DDD • T/t)

It feels like the Seventies again. Hyperion has apparently committed itself to a complete set of Machaut’s music. Not just that, but it has chosen the Orlando Consort as its artists. To my ears, this is a dream team, with the enormously experienced Donald Greig and Angus Smith alongside two younger singers on the higher voices – Matthew Venner and Mark Dobell, who display the most magnificent articulation of the texts alongside the understanding of the lines gained from their senior colleagues. But it doesn’t end there: they are working alongside the editors of the first coherent and scholarly attempt at a Machaut edition since the 1950s.

Those who know the Orlando Consort will know what to expect. No instruments, just solo men’s voices, singing text where there is text in the manuscripts, vocalising where there is none, always dead in tune, always beautifully balanced. No embellishment or interpolations. No gimmicks to make it easily palatable, though an imaginative juxtaposition of the pieces. Absolutely complete texts in all cases, which seems mandatory because Machaut is as famous as a poet as he is as a composer and also because he is one of the very few composers of those years for whom we know that we have the complete poems in all cases.

But the unforgettable track here is Angus Smith performing the ‘Lay de Bon Esperance’, over 20 minutes of unaccompanied solo singing. This and Machaut’s other lais must be among the greatest challenges before Wagner for any singer. He’s terrific. David Fallows

Marenzio Primo libro di madrigali La Compagnia del Madrigale Glossa F GCD922802 (68’ • DDD)

La Compagnia del Madrigale is a new ensemble initiated by Rossana Bertini (soprano), Giuseppe Maletto (tenor) and Daniele Carnovich (bass), all leading alumni of La Venexiana and Concerto Italiano who have collaborated in one way or another for over 20 years. Accordingly, the singers possess honed skills of listening and responding to each other in order to create exquisite chiaroscuro to convey bittersweet pathos. Marenzio’s Primo libro di madrigali (1580) was dedicated to his employer Cardinal Luigi d’Este, the owner of his late uncle’s famous villa at Tivoli (subsequent books were dedicated to the cardinal’s Ferrarese relations, who were patrons of the poet Tasso; Marenzio also had connections to the Gonzagas in Mantua and the Medici in Florence). Time and again as I listened, my jaw dropped at both the quality of Marenzio’s cleverly varied five-voice music and the astonishing sonorities of La Compagnia del Madrigale’s beguiling performances: the melancholic erotic yearning of ‘Tirsi morir volea’ (a poem from Guarini’s Il pastor fido), the exquisite dissonances illustrating lost love in ‘Dolorosi martir, fieri tormenti’, the canonic imagery of a blissful dream gradually fading into consciousness in ‘Venuta era Madonna al mio languire’ and the polychoral echo effects in the concluding eight-voice dialogue ‘O tu che fra le selve occulti vivi’ all reveal why Dowland tried in vain to visit Rome so he