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Alfonso FERRABOSCO (1543-1588)
Dolci ire (madrigal a 5) [6:55]
Auprès de vous (chanson a 5) [2:49]
In Nomine I [2:38]
Pecantem me quotidie (motet a 5) [3:32]
Psalmus CIII [32:32]
Bruna sei tu, ma bella (madrigal a 5) [2:45]
Domine, non secundum peccata nostra (motet a 6) [4:35]
Quel sempre acerbo (madrigal a 6) [4:14]
The Huelgas Ensemble/Paul Van Nevel
Recorded September 2004 at the Chapel of the Franciscans, Lille
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 901874 [60:40]

Alfonso Ferrabosco, known as "Il Padre" to distinguish him from his son who also became a composer, lived a life of intrigue and turmoil, ferrying back and forth between his Italian homeland and England, where to the great consternation of the Pope, served in the Anglican court of Queen Elizabeth I. Born in 1543, he worked with Palestrina in the Papal Chapel until the ascendance of Paul IV in 1555, when all married men were summarily dismissed from the Vatican’s service; Palestrina was to suffer the same fate. After a series of run-ins with official Rome, he landed in England where he worked for Queen Elizabeth I, later running afoul of her good graces, only to be reinstated, and removed again. Thought by some to be a spy and double agent, he was valued by Elizabeth not only for his musical ability, but also for his in-depth knowledge of the goings on in Rome. Political machinations aside, he was a unique and original composer, often eschewing the day’s harmonic conventions. As a madrigalist, he was a harbinger of things to come, greatly influencing the future English madrigal school that was to come to its apex in the works of Morley, Weelkes and Wilbye. As a composer of sacred works, he never betrayed his Catholic upbringing, setting mainly Psalm texts that were universal to both faiths.

Paul van Nevel’s Huelgas ensemble is the perfect choice for this harmonically ripe music. Not having seen the actual scores, I was at first quite fascinated by the part make up of the choir. With only one alto listed in the personnel roster, one wonders just how the composer achieves the textures he does with apparently uneven scoring. I will leave that subject hence alone, as it is difficult to comment without the score in front of me.

As for the music itself, it is typical of the time, excepting that it is far less "safe" in its use of jarring shifts of tonal center. In the Psalm setting, some movements begin in E major only to end in F-sharp major, other passages shift from B-flat into B major, all amazingly seamlessly and naturally. At least in these selections, there is very little variation in tempo, most works moving along in the standard late renaissance pace of about sixty half notes per minute, a standard of tempo derived from the average adult male’s pulse. What is particularly noteworthy is the utter transparency of line and the careful attention that Ferrabosco pays to the clarity of the text. Each word, even in the more complex passages is quite distinguishable, which is due in part of course to this choir’s scrupulous attention to balance and enunciation.

Although the singing of the Huelgas Ensemble is flawless in tone quality and their tuning is perfect, I would have appreciated a bit more dynamic variety. What I perceived was beauty for beauty’s sake, and it would have been somewhat refreshing to hear a little more Italian angst, especially in the madrigals with their more adventuresome and emotion packed texts. That is a taste issue with me, however, and my personal whims in no way kept me from thoroughly enjoying this beautifully recorded disc of glorious music, heretofore unknown to me.

Excellent, entertaining and informative program notes by Maestro Van Nevel cap off a first rate recording, up to Harmonia Mundi’s customarily high standards. No lover of vocal polyphony will want to be without this lovely recording.

Kevin Sutton

 

 



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