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.

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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)