7 Oct 2016

Palestrina: Missa Papae Marcelli / Motets

Palestrina: Missa Papae Marcelli / Motets
Sistine Chapel Choir / Massimo Palombella
Deutsche Grammophon 479 6131

The Sistine Chapel Choir in partnership with Deutsche Grammophon continue to deliver supremely atmospheric and intriguing performances of Palestrina’s polyphony. It is perhaps inevitable that this world-famous choir, newly energised under the direction of Massimo Palombella, would record the Missa Papae Marcelli early in their discography, the mass famous for having ‘saved’ sacred polyphony by presenting the texts clearly and intelligibly. Their recording draws on editions from 1567-1600 lacking the seven-part Agnus Dei II and, as such, it is not sung on this disc.

Previously in their album Cantate Domino (479 5300) I found the Sistine Chapel choir reminiscent of Westminster Cathedral Choir under George Malcolm. This new recording is different, partly due to the broader style of the mass, and partly due to a cleaner, less mannered performance from the choir.


To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (October 2016)

16 Sep 2016

The Seven Lamentations: Cristóbal De Morales

The Seven Lamentations: Cristóbal De Morales
Utopia - KTC 1538. Etcetera Records

Founded just a year ago, Utopia are among the proliferating number of young ensembles to combine a softer continental sound with  steely accuracy in one-per-part Renaissance polyphony. The result, according to their tag line, is ‘Belgian handmade polyphony’. The singers have between them a respectable heritage including Collegium Vocale Gent, Nederlands Bach Society and Huelgas Ensemble to name but a few, and in terms of sound they are similar to the ensemble Beauty Farm, with whom they share two singers.


A relatively recent recording of three sections of these lamentations by The Brabant Ensemble calls for a comparison. As Fabrice Fitch observed in this magazine, The Brabant Ensemble have a high ‘centre of acoustic gravity’ in renaissance polyphony (Jacquet of Mantua review, June 2015) that I feel lends sheen to their sound. Utopia, conversely, have a much lower centre of gravity yet maintain similar clarity whilst simultaneously warming the texture with soft Flemish-tinged vowel sounds. The results are beautiful, intimate and thoroughly engaging. 

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (2016: Awards Issue)  

15 Sep 2016

Monteverdi Madrigali Vol.1 Cremona

Monteverdi Madrigali Vol.1 Cremona
Les Arts Florissants / Paul Agnew
Les Arts Florissants Editions AF005

In this splendid selection of madrigals from Monteverdi’s first three books, as lovers bare their souls so the singers are also starkly exposed. This album, live and intimate, is one of the most closely recorded discs of its kind. More modest than the emotional quick-fire performances of, say, La Venexiana or Concerto Italiano, the close-up world of Les Arts Florissants is what TV acting is to stage acting. Such extreme intimacy allows for whole worlds of nuance to hang on the smallest of gestures: a slight quavering on a long note, or a snatched breath. For the listener this album is as close to sitting in the middle of the performance as it is possible to imagine. Interpretatively, it pays homage The Consort of Musicke’s performances from the1980s by lending a greater sense of personal profundity to the words and suggesting an affinity with earlier madrigalists such as Marenzio. [...]

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (2016: Awards Issue) 

21 Aug 2016

GRANADA 1013-1502

GRANADA 1013-1502
Dirección: Jordi Savall (Alia Vox AVSA9915)

The indefatigable Jordi Savall continues to unite musicians from East and West as he traverses five centuries of musical traditions in Granada. Describing it as ‘one of the most important and admired cities in Muslim Andalusia’ the majority of performances on this new album were recorded live in 2013 at a concert in the Alhambra Palace to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of Granada’s foundation.

Savall is consistent and unflinching: he states that this album ‘is a passionate testimony to the power of music in bringing about intercultural dialogue’. With this message I feel he joins Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said in a pantheon of intellectual icons calling for cultural understanding across political divides.

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (September 2016)

17 Jul 2016

Gramophone Collector

Wanderlust and exile
Edward Breen listens to a collection of discs exploring the boundary between East and West

Early musicians look east not because they find it quaintly exotic, nor because they learned from Disraeli that is a career. They look, and have always looked, because they realise the roots of the ‘Western’ story are as inextricably intertwined with The East as is its present.

The modern early musician (if you forgive the oxymoron) is heir to an important lineage of musical thought, one that has fundamentally shaken the broader frame of classical music in which it perches. Whereas early twentieth century performances tended to come straight-from-the-page in the prevailing chamber music style, things changed in the 60s when, for instance, performers like Thomas Binkley looked to Andalucían improvisatory practices to inform the performance of medieval dance, he and others began to view monody as a starting point rather than an absolute. By the 1980s Christopher Page moved away from what he once described as the ‘medieval-banquet, rosy-cheeked-wench, sucking-pig view of the medieval past’ towards a more ‘cathedralish’ middle ages and perhaps it was no coincidence that around this time Peter Phillips also discovered an urtext renaissance suited the clean digital sound of CD.

Having now established a canon of early music, the movement is restless again and seems to be revisiting its 1960s roots. I for one detect wanderlust.

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (August 2016)

16 Jul 2016

Chorus vel Organa

Chorus vel Organa
Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge 

Geoffrey Webber director, Magnus Williamson organ.
Delphian DCD34158

There is much to be celebrated here as early music scholarship inspires joyful performances from the Choir of Gonville & Caius College. The album presents pre-Reformation liturgical music for the Feast of St Stephen (26th December) alongside plainsong and its alternatives; chanting in chords, faburden and organ improvisations. Consequently, the jewel in this particular crown is the St Teilo organ, a reconstruction in the early English 16th-century style following research from John Harper at Bangor University’s “The Experience of Worship” project. Organist, Magnus Williamson, revives improvisatory techniques appropriate for both plainsong and polyphony leading to an album whose polyphonic delights are embedded in a liturgical soundscape likely to reflect practice in the chapel of St Stephen during Henry VIII’s reign.

To read the full text of this review please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (August 2016)

4 Jul 2016

Firminus Caron: Twilight of the Middle Ages

Firminus Caron: Twilight of the Middle Ages Huelgas Ensemble / Paul van Nevel
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 88875143472

[...] The sublime and despairing rondeau, Le despourveu infortune, one of the most popular in the second half of the fifteenth century, here showcases this ensemble at their best, mourning and yearning with wonderfully judged delicate vocal lines cascading like gentle tears. The contrast could not be greater with their grittier, wittier tone in the delightfully smutty Corps contre corps where sequential vocal entries reveal a mischievous plan: no-holes-barred [sic] lusty singing from the lower voices and a smooth upper line which makes sense only when you read the text closely…

To read the full text of this review please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (July 2016)