GRAMOPHONE AWARDS SHORTLIST 2021
giovinetta pianta’ while highlighting the rhetorical shifts between third- and firstperson narrative in ‘Sovra tenere erbette a bianchi fiori’ and ‘Rimanti in pace’, and moving into still more overt musical drama in the cycle ‘Vattene pure, crudel’ with its hints of the concitato style to come. The latter’s range is less extreme than in Alessandrini’s earlier account (‘Madrigali sui testi di Tasso’ – Tactus, 2012), where Armida’s chromatic swoon takes us into near sound-effect territory and generally the sound is plusher, more consistently handsome, though still as dark-hued as ever.
The obvious comparison is with La Venexiana’s fine recording on Glossa – probably the go-to up until now. Cavina’s singers have a blossomy lightness of tone (particularly the lower voices) that comes into its own in the madrigals of spring and birdsong, giving them real buoyancy. With Concerto Italiano we get more chiaroscuro in the tone, a broader canvas and bigger gestures that feel more organic than La Venexiana’s occasionally micromanaged articulation.
Ultimately both are recordings to return to, a complementary pair that keep the debate over words and music very much alive. Alexandra Coghlan Selected comparison: Venexiana, Cavina (GLOS) GCD920923
Ockeghem ‘Les chansons’ Josquin Nymphes des bois/Requiem Ockeghem Aultre Venus. L’autre d’antan. Baisies moy. Les desleaulx. La despourveue. D’ung aultre amer. Fors seullement contre/ Fors seulement l’attente. Fors seulement l’attente. Il ne m’en chault. Je n’ay dueil – a 3; a 4. Ma bouche rit. Ma Maistresse. Mort, tu as navré/ Miserere. Prenez sur moy. Presque transi. O rosa bella. Quant de vous seul. ¿Qu’es mi vida, preguntays?. S’elle m’amera/Petite camusette. Se vostre cuer. Tant fuz gentement resjouy. Ung aultre l’a Cut Circle / Jesse Rodin Musique en Wallonie F b MEW1995 (134’ • DDD • T/t)
This is pathbreaking. Certainly Cut Circle are not the first to sing late 15th-century songs without instrumental participation. The Orlando Consort did it for two discs of Loyset Compère (Metronome, 6/94; Hyperion, 8/15); and The Sound and the Fury did it for a few pieces on their set of music by Firminus Caron (Fra Bernardo, 10/13). But there is something quite new about the way Cut Circle resist any kind of external contrasts to ‘vary’ the sound. They present all known secular songs of Ockeghem, leaving out only those that appear with ascriptions to Ockeghem but are almost certainly by others. They do them all with full forms (texts reconstructed when necessary, by Gramophone’s own Fabrice Fitch). They are also more aggressive with their textenunciation than we are used to hearing in this repertory; and that seems to me a massive improvement.
They have two women new to the group, Sonja DuToit Tengblad and Clare McNamara, both with astonishing voiceranges and ranges of articulation. For the lowest voices they have two marvellous singers who have been with Cut Circle all along, Bradford Gleim and Paul Max Tipton. It seems to me that this is not only sung with beautiful balance and intonation throughout but that the tempos are perfectly judged, with lots of lovely space within the lines and between the stanzas.
Like all issues from Musique en Wallonie, it is beautifully presented, with translations of all texts into four languages (the English translations by Professor Adrian Armstrong), with reproductions from the main manuscripts concerned and a highly informative essay by their director, Jesse Rodin. I think this recording sets new standards for the recording of such music and will be a model for many more to come.
These are obviously good times for those who love Ockeghem songs; and there are very few better songs from the 15th century. Only last year there was a CD from another Boston-based group, Blue Heron (1/20), who have promised to issue one more to complete their Ockeghem set. Blue Heron have a lot of the same qualities as Cut Circle, particularly in terms of space and excitement: that is to say that this too is very good indeed. Only in the combinative chanson S’elle m’amera/Petite camusette do Blue Heron seem to me to have the edge in conveying the song’s lightness of touch better. Both groups, I’m sorry to say, overlook the obvious emendation in O rosa bella published by Alexander Erhard in 2010 and again by me in 2014. But the main difference is that Cut Circle add text to all lines throughout, which adds enormously to the music’s impact. David Fallows (January 2021)
‘The Sweetest Songs’ ‘Music from the Baldwin Partbooks, Vol 3’ Anonymous Confitebor tibi Domine Byrd Ne perdas cum impiis. Peccavi super numerum. Tristitia et anxietas Daman Confitebor tibi Domine J Mundy In te Domine speravi W Mundy Memor esto verbi tui Parsons Domine quis habitabit Sheppard Confitebor tibi Domine R White Domine, non est exaltatum. Portio mea Contrapunctus / Owen Rees Signum F SIGCD633 (67’ • DDD • T/t)
It’s difficult to believe that the first work you hear on this album has never been recorded before. For sure pacing and deft execution of details, Robert White’s Domine, non est exaltatum is hard to fault: the entry in the top part that ushers in the final verse is like an unobtrusive but skilfully planned surprise. I’ve long had a soft spot for this composer, two of whose works have been chosen to bookend this recital, and welcome the chance to be reminded why. In between are several other first recordings (including one by Byrd, no less).
All the pieces on this recital are psalm motets. They round off Contrapunctus’s three-part exploration of the Baldwin Partbooks in fine style. There’s a rich variety of moods, from the solemnity of White’s contributions and desolation in Byrd’s Tristitia et anxietas to the jubilation of Parson’s Dominus, quis habitabit and of the anonymous Confitebor tibi – another gem of a first recording. John Mundy’s In te Domine speravi outstays its welcome at the end but he plainly inherited more than his share of his father’s skill; this slightly ‘phoned-in’ passage is more than made up for by no fewer than three helpings of Byrd.
The programming alone would warrant a strong recommendation but it’s more than matched by Contrapunctus’s advocacy. They are in cracking form here, with no discernible weak link in the ensemble: honey-toned and purposeful sopranos, assertive countertenors and everything on down to match. Owen Rees’s direction is sharp and incisive: his reading of the Parsons, for example, makes the most of an exceptionally engaging piece. Technical security, that fabled ‘Rolls-Royce quality’, is the English choral tradition’s calling card; you get it here as well, but Rees really encourages the singers to respond to all the different affects that this accomplished recital offers. Fabrice Fitch (May 2021)
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