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Il Trionfo di Dori (1592)
The King’s Singers
For track listing see below
rec. Ascot Priory, Ascot, Berkshire, 2013

It has been quite a puzzle to me that this famous compendium of six-part Italian madrigals has never before appeared on either LP or CD. There are twenty-nine of them by the same number of poets and composers many little known as can be seen from the track-listings below. The collection, which was influential all around Europe, has recently been edited and published afresh by Harrison Powley. Its fame crept especially to England spawning ‘The Triumphs of Oriana’ a collection put together by Thomas Morley in honour of Queen Elizabeth I, called the ‘Fair Oriana’.

Leonardo Sanudo a Venetian nobleman who had been involved with other successful, themed madrigal publications conceived and commissioned the collection. This was in honour of Dori who symbolises his wife Elisabetta Giustinian whom he had married in 1577. Why and for which occasion does not seem to be known.

Although Marenzio’s contribution was already in print by 1592 it seems that it was Giovanni Croce’s madrigal Ove tra l’herbe e i fiore which set Morley into action. Tony Corradini and his group have, understandably, chosen to set it at the head of their Tactus CD recording. Morley used some its ideas in his Oriana madrigal Hard by a Crystal Fountain although it has been said that Michael Cavendish’s madrigal Come gentle Swains (1598), using the refrain ‘Long live fair Oriana’, was written first. In the Italian collection the final refrain becomes ”Viva la bella Dori!”

So, London buses syndrome strikes again. The version recorded by Gruppo Vocale which came out last year on Tactus 590003, and which I reviewed, was made only a few months before the King’s Singers went into their recording studio. Anyway, I am now in a position to compare and contrast.

I had ended my February 2014 review by saying that “Its possible that another group may tackle this important repertoire”. I was expecting, let's say La Venexiana or The Consort of Musicke not The King’s Singers. In truth I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to hear their versions, being very uncertain whether counter-tenors on the top line would be preferable to a mixed SATB or SSATB grouping. However I’m glad that I have heard them.

In many ways they are brighter and a touch quicker than the Gruppo Vocale but they can also be more expressive bringing out the best in each of the madrigals not all of which are especially interesting. Whereas the Italian group seem to be a touch bored by some of the pieces like the rather dull ones by de Monte and also Bozzi, The King’s Singers capture the listener's interest in almost all of them. In fact in this recording some madrigals have come alive for me more than before. I was much struck this time by the beauty, calm and word-painting of Cavaccio’s Giunta qui Dori.
The Tactus disc has the following problems for me. First there are no texts or translations, one needs to access the company’s website. Second, the voices, especially those of the women, sometimes exhibit a disagreeable vocal balance and vibrato. Surely, you may say, it was a mixed vocal ensemble who would originally have performed these pieces. It may well be so but even the Italian group admit to transposing any madrigal that doesn’t work for them and The King's Singers presumably have to do the same. On some occasions their upper voices do sound a little strained. I have not, I must add, seen the scores.

The Tactus disc has an excellent essay by Tony Carradini and fascinating biographical notes on the composers. It also quotes the dedication page from the first printed edition. The King's Singers record the pieces in publication order and name the poets for each piece for what it's worth but Signum has the briefest of essays and no comments about the composers or poets. In the end I suspect that I will have to find room for both discs.

Other madrigals that come off well are Florio’s restrained and elegant Piu trasparente verlo and Sabino’s Dove sorge piacevole. These composers and several others can be traced to Venice where Alfonso Preti also worked. It’s not surprising to find him alongside Gabrieli and to hear his double choir madrigal Ninfe a danzan venite with its echo effects. I love the warm vocal quality at the start of Anerio’s rich Sotto l’ombroso speco and the sequential writing in Striggio’s Eran ninfe e pastori. And it's interesting to compare how the twenty-nine composers chose to set the final line of each madrigal ‘Viva la bella Dori’ with Ruggiero Giovanelli’s madrigal being especially clever and joyous. The all-male group really let their hair down in the final track: Palestrina’s jubilant Quando dal terzo cielo.

Clearly some of the composers were what one might call “amateur” (occasional composers) or not known elsewhere like Gasparo Zerto but this doesn’t mean that their madrigals are less attractive, interesting or beautiful. Giovanni de Macque and Orazio Vecchi may be quite well known but their pieces seem to me to be a little second rate.

If you have to make a single choice The King’s Singers will appeal more and it’s also beautifully recorded in a venue, which is at least new to this reviewer.

Gary Higginson


1 Ippolito BACCUSI (c.1540-1609) Un giorno a Pale sacro [3.06]
2 Ippolito SABINO (fl.c1590) Dove sorge piacevole [2.49]
3 Orazio VECCHI (1550-1605) Hor ch’ogni vento tace [3.22]
4 Giovanni GABRIELI (1557-1612) Se cantano gli augelli [2.30]
5 Alfonso PRETI (fl/c1581-1600) Ninfe a sanzar venite [1.50]
6 Luca MARENZIO (1553-1599) Leggiadre ninfe e pastorelli [2.43]
7 Giovanni de MACQUE (1550-1614) Vaghe ninfe selvegge [2.44]
8 Orazio COLOMBANI (1554-1595) All’apparir di Dori [2.16]
9 Giovanni CAVACCIO (c.1556-1626) Giunta qui Dori [3.05]
10 Annibale STABILE (c.1535-1595) Nel tempo che ritorna Zefiro [2.30]
11 Paolo BOZZI All’ombre d’un bel faggio [2.49]
12 Tiburtio MASSAINO (c.1550-1608) Su le fiorite sponde [2.14]
13 Giovanni Matteo ASOLA (1532-1609) In una verde piaggia [2.12]
14 Giulio EREMITA (c.1550-c.1600) Emeraldi eran le rive [2.16]
15 Philippe de MONTE (1541-1603) Lungo le Chiara linfe [1.46]
16 Giovanni CROCE (1557-1609) Ove tra l’herbe e I fiore [2.33]
17 Pietro Andrea BONINI Quando lieta vezzosa [2.19]
18 Alessandro STRIGGIO (1536-1592) Eran ninfe e pastori [2.08]
19 Giovanni FLORIO (c.1535-c.1600) Piu trasparente velo [2.32]
20 Leone LEONI (1560-1627) Di pastorali accenti [2.40]
21 Felice ANERIO (1569-1614) Sotto l’ombroso speco [2.44]
22 Gasparo ZERTO (c.1550-c.1605) L’inargentato lido [2.35]
23 Ruggero GIOVANNELLI Quando’apparisti o vag’o amata Dori [2.23]
24 Gasparo COSTA (c.1535-1590/1) Mentr’a a quest’ombra’interno [2.59]
25 Lelio BERTANI Dori a questa ombre è l’aura [2.02]
26 Ludovico BALBI (1545-1604) Mentre pastori e ninfe [1.57]
27 Giovanni GASTOLDI (c.1550-1622) Al mormorar de’liquidi cristalli [2.37]
28 Constanzo PORTA (1528-1601) Da la spentar de’matutini albori [2.36]
29 Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA (1525-1597) Quando dal terzo cielo [2.25]


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