Wonderful. There will be a tear in the eye at the ravishing exquisiteness of it all.
Next to Petrarch, Ariosto’s extraordinary
Orlando Furioso became one of the most published, read and discussed books of sixteenth century Italy. The author compiled his poems between 1512 and 1516. Rather like the works of Cervantes almost a century later the poems tell the story of a sort of knight-errant of medieval literature. He is here put not in a comic context but in the an epic war “between Muslims and Christians’. There’s a love story as well with the beautiful Angelica running away from her suitors including Orlando. He discovers that she has had an affair within a cave with a pagan Medoro. On the point of insanity heRead more is aided by a seemingly unlikely moon flight by Astolfo. There is more to it but you get the gist I trust. For some reason the work was taken up at all levels of society and by 1532 had reached a third edition. The author died the following year but this edition was submitted to another 155 reprints and was further adapted. One of the reasons for its popularity was that composers of the period had set stanzas from it in the ever burgeoning and popular madrigal market.
In Ferrara at the Estense court and also with the Gonzaga family in Mantua the work and its associated music was especially admired. It was there that Bartolomeo Tromboncino, the composer of the only frottola setting on this CD was to be found. He also appears in Ferrara a little later with the Borgias and in Rome. Other composers worked there including Rore and de Wert who are represented here. Ariosto’s poem and those by others based upon it also spread to Milan where we find Vincenzo Ruffo and Lassus. The latter may have taken the idea of setting Ariosto when in Rome working at S.Giovanni in Laterano a massively important position. Antonio Barré lived there. He it was who included in his ‘Libre della Muse’ three volumes of madrigal settings of the poem. Florence is also represented by the sublime Philippe Verdelot and Venice by Andrea Gabrieli who, on the rare occasions I hear one of his examples, I feel should be better known as a madrigalist. These men represent a variety of styles some densely contrapuntal, like Rore some more homophonic like the almost declamatory Hoste de Reggio and Palestrina. Some like those by Pallavicino are later and in a lighter style similar to the villanesca.
So the background to this disc is significant and, I have only just scratched its surface. You would need to read the lengthy but fascinating accompanying essay by Cecilia Luzzi to gain a broader view. There is also an essay by three of the singers entitled ‘A daring feat’ in which they remind us that the Byrd madrigal has “been presented for the first time in Italian”. They also tell us that no fewer than 700 compositions have survived based around the Orlando story, “nearly all are unknown”. It was an excellent idea to record one especially beautiful poem ‘Queste non son piu lagrime’ in three versions. A stylistic comparison like this is always of great interest. It seems that the group may now embark on “the long road of exploration of this marvellous repertoire” so presumably there will be more CDs.
The twenty-two pieces chosen here tell the story fairly much in order through the music of sixteen composers active between 1541 and 1588. These are the dates of their publications from Philip Verdelot’s posthumous collection up to, intriguingly not only William Byrd but also Alfonso Ferrabosco the elder. Many of these settings are tear-jerkingly beautiful especially those by Rore and Wert. The singers match the mood splendidly with passion, wonderful balance and clear, true Italian diction. All the texts are given in the original and in English with each madrigal also given a contextual resumé above the text. There are also attractive photographs of the artists.
I have much enjoyed this CD, its concept, its beautiful presentation and colour pictures all in a cardboard casing. The singing is wonderful. All I can do is to point you in its direction and urge you to enjoy it. There will be a tear in the eye at the ravishing exquisiteness of many of these madrigals.
-- Gary Higginson, MusicWeb International Read less