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Madrigalists at Prayer - Sacred Music by the Masters of Sixteenth-Century Italy
Luca MARENZIO (1553/54 - 1599)

Iniquos odio habui [03:21]
Giaches DE WERT (1535 - 1596)

Transeunte Domino [08:15]

Domine, quando veneris [09:43]
Giaches DE WERT (1535 - 1596)

Vox in Rama [05:13]
Cipriano DE RORE (1515/16 - 1565)

Fulgebunt iusti [02:16]
Giaches DE WERT

O sacrum convivium [02:16]

Cantantibus organis [02:18]
Giaches DE WERT

Noli timere [06:17]
Adesto dolore meo [04:39]

Cantate Domino [03:53]
Rutgers Collegium Musicum/Andrew Kirkman
Recorded live on 2 February 2004 at Kirkpatrick Chapel, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J., USA DDD


The composers whose works are performed on this disc are mainly known for their madrigals. But that wasn't necessarily the case in their own time. It very seldom happened that a composer of vocal works exclusively composed sacred or secular music. Even the composer who is generally considered the most prominent representative of sacred music of the late renaissance in Italy, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, did write a number of madrigals. And De Wert's motets were the only part of his musical output which was printed in quantity during his lifetime.

Most composers of vocal music were also or even in the first place 'maestro di cappella' at a church or court chapel. Apart from that they were often connected to some prince or aristocrat who invited them to compose madrigals to be performed at their court. From that viewpoint it is perhaps not surprising that madrigals were not always widely printed. Some were composed for a specific court and not meant to be performed everywhere. After all, there was a stiff competition among the aristocracy and others who had a court of their own: the musicians they were able to attract, and the composers who composed for them all contributed to their prestige.

It certainly makes sense to look for a link between the sacred music of the above-mentioned composers and their madrigal-writing. Very often their motets are characterised by the close connection between text and music in a way comparable to what they did in their madrigals. Hence the use of the term 'madrigalism' to describe the way text and music were linked together.

For example, De Wert's madrigals are marked by frequent chromaticism. It doesn't come as a surprise, then, that he uses the same technique in his motet 'Adesto dolore meo' with its mourning character. Madrigalisms also characterise one of his most famous works, the motet 'Vox in Rama'.

Cipriano de Rore, one of the last representatives of the 'Franco-Flemish' school active in Italy, is another composer who is nowadays mainly known for his madrigals, but who was at the service of Duke Ercole II d'Este in Ferrara as 'maestro di cappella'. In his motets he showed a strong preference for dramatic texts. It is a little strange that he is represented here with just one piece, and a motet whose authenticity is very doubtful at that.

Marenzio on the one hand used madrigalisms in his motets and was strongly attracted to religious symbolism, but on the other hand he made use of the polychoral technique developed in Venice. The disc opens and closes with a motet for double choir, both on texts from the Book of Psalms.

This is a recording of a live performance given by the Rutgers Collegium Musicum, which is an ensemble for early music of the Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University, and includes students, alumni and faculty members as well as members of the local community. Taking this into account one has to admire the level of the performances given here. Sometimes there are slight problems with intonation, but otherwise this is a technically admirable production. Having said that I have to point out that the interpretations are not always satisfying. The pronunciation of Latin has a slight English accent. More serious is that the lyrics are difficult to understand, which is particularly problematic since they are nor printed in the booklet. The liner notes refer to the madrigalisms in the motets, but it would have been nice if the listener had been allowed to discover them himself, either by listening or by reading the texts, or by both. The ensemble is also a little top-heavy: the sound of the ensemble is too much dominated by the sopranos.

Sometimes I would have liked a little more declamation, as in De Wert's 'Transeunte Domino'. Considering this is the telling of a story - the healing of the blind man in Luke 18 - there is too little differentiation in tempo, and a general lack of passion. And in the last item on the disc the tempo again is too slow in a piece with such a text.

It is a pity that the tendency to blandness undermines a little the commendable attempt to show the 'other side' of some composers who are nowadays mainly known for their secular music, and how closely the sacred and the secular were connected in those days.

Johan van Veen
A sympathetic and commendable attempt to show the 'sacred side' of composers mainly known for their secular music ... see Full Review

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