Recordings of madrigals by 16th century Italians
are not particularly uncommon. The same can be said of madrigal
anthologies by Flemish composers who for some part of their
careers worked in Italy. Not only that but there are plenty
of discs devoted to and therefore more focused on the composers
represented here. Cipriano de Rore was recorded superbly by
Anthony Rooley on his now defunct label Musica Oscura (5th book
of madrigals on 070991). Lassus has been recorded often but
especially look out for the Hilliard ensemble on Virgin Veritas
(7242 5 611662.7) and Gaiches de Wert is superbly represented
also by The Consort of Musick on a Virgin Veritas disc (7th
book of madrigals, Virgin 7243 5 611772.3). If you prefer a
general CD of the repertoire then you could try the slightly
po-faced Amaryllis Consort on IMP (PCD 822). These happen to
be my favourites but there is much to choose from.
So, the point is: why buy this disc? Well first it gives
the listener a general view of some of the finest examples of
the genre. Secondly it is wonderfully and colourfully sung so
that at no point does ones interest flag throughout this generously
The Song Company is an Australian group; their biography
is given in the booklet notes which accompany a very useful
essay on the composers and music by Roland Peelman, the group’s
artistic director. The singers are young and fresh and give
me the impression of completely loving this music and of looking
for new ways of presenting it - not by gimmicks but by musicality.
Let me explain further by taking track 3, Wert’s ‘M’ha punt’Amor’
‘Cupid has hit me with his mischievous bow’. Here, with lute
accompaniment, the voices enter quietly and sensitively. The
volume gradually increases with the counterpoint towards the
final “To arms, War” or in Italian the more aggressive ‘Guerra’.
Following Wert’s mood the singers throw off the gentle madrigalian
voices and gradually put on a front-of-the-mouth-attacking diction;
this all in the space of one minute and twenty seconds. The
madrigal has been clearly characterized and the best has been
brought out of it.
This CD offers madrigals of the serious kind and pieces
of what one might call rustic humour. In fact I’m quite surprised
that Lassus’s ‘Chi chillichi’ made it past the censor, with
its references to several private parts! Lassus is represented
by four of these comic works but also by the seamlessly interweaving
counterpoint of ‘Madonna mia pieta’, here transferred to the
cool sounds of the lute and the three settings of texts by Petrarch
who, although he lived 200 years earlier, still exerted in his
love lyrics a terrific influence on the culture of the renaissance.
The ‘Company of Singers’ are great fun in these lighter pieces
but carry off the serious-minded Wert’s polyphony equally splendidly,
especially his six sections from Torquato Tasso’s much longer
poem ‘ Gerusalemme liberata’. This recounts the last thirty
days of the crusading army’s battle leading to the fall of Jerusalem.
These pieces represent the peak of Italian madrigal writing,
and these performances will not disappoint although I would
have appreciated a little more bass in the overall balance.
Cipriano de Rore is, as it were, the class act of the
period, a composer’s composer. He is never overly passionate
yet expresses the poem delicately, subtly and with a real sensitivity
to the text. Everything is nevertheless held in classical poise
not dissimilar to the paintings of Raphael. My one criticism
of this CD is that another Rore madrigal instead of a Lassus
would have balanced the disc slightly better. The famous ‘Ancor
che col partire’ on which so many composers based instrumental
variations and others based masses is a fine example of his
arms-length beauty and perfect balance. It is modern in that
it has a greater emphasis on the melody (and with affecting
major key harmony) than on flowing polyphony; this gives it
a gentle simplicity.
So to sum up: this is a highly recommendable disc by
a young and very promising group singing standard Italian madrigal
repertoire in a lively, colourful but entirely appropriate manner.
All texts are given in Italian and with good English translations.
The recording is close but with a good sense of the chapel space
around the voices.