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If Palestrina’s ‘Song of Songs’ was his tongue-in-cheek atonement for writing madrigals in his youth, he was not a natural when it came to secular music, unlike the great Orlando di Lasso. Lasso’s Psalms, however, are utterly devout: seven penitential psalms plus Laudes Domino fill a double-CD, Psalmus, from Die Singphoniker, a consort of gentlemen with occasional guest soprano. Their soft-toned voices cast a veil over even the most urgent of orations, and occasional lapses in style and intonation detract only mildly from a carefully introspective performance. Both Masses and madrigals flowed easily from the pen of Cipriano da Rore, and another German male-voice group, Weser-Renaissance, seeks to impress with Missa ‘Vivat Felix Hercules’ Motets Duke Ercole II d’Este of Ferrara is celebrated in this work based on a masterwork by Josquin, the Missa ‘Hercules Dux Ferrariae’, dedicated to his grandfather Ercole I. It’s clever stuff, but this accomplished but not entirely blemish-free singing, recorded with clarity, feels detached in edgy acoustics. Recorded in 2015 for the composer’s 450th anniversary, it has only just been released. For the secular Rore, here comes a double-CD of his madrigals from the American consort Blue Heron on their own label, I madrigali a cinque voci.Thesix bright-toned singers, variously employed, are directed externally by Scott Metcalf. They form expressive ensembles, but might there have been even more intensity, emotion, and personality if directed from within by a singer? In intimate acoustics with the perfect touch of bloom, some of these interpretations feel a tad safe and they suffer some minor intonation difficulties. Daringly, they have employed a reader (the excellent Alessandro Quarta) to declaim the text in Italian before each madrigal, making this truly a recording for the cognoscenti.

REBECCA TAVENER Read the full review on Agora Classica


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