WORKS: Miserere; Miserere in G minor; Miserere in D minor; Miserere mei
PERFORMER: Isabelle Poulenard (soprano), Alain Zaepffel (countertenor), Jean-Claude Orliac (tenor), Michel Verschaeve (baritone); Ensemble Métamorphoses/Maurice Bourbon; Ensemble Vocal da Camera/Daniel Meier; Ensemble Vocal de Bourgogne, Ensemble d’Instruments Ancie
CATALOGUE NO: ARN 50563
The standard version of Allegri’s 1638 Miserere – famous since the 18th century – is not authentic. Ensemble William Byrd returns to the original to perform a ‘curious composite in which two closely linked Miserere settings intertwine’. Effective though Allegri’s simple arrangement of the Miserere is, this hybrid arrangement, interwoven with Tommaso Bai’s 1714 music, is even more alluring. It is not, moreover, merely the unfamiliarity of this music that makes this disc a must but the haunting seductiveness of the singing.
The text of Psalm 50 (on which the Miserere is based) has been a source of inspiration to many composers. Ensemble William Byrd’s selection of later settings offers an attractive sample. These include excellent accounts of Francesco Scarlatti’s brilliant composition with instruments, Giacomo Moro’s mellifluous version for two voices and Leonardo Leo’s highly illustrative setting.
For those wanting Allegri’s Miserere in its conventional form, Pro Cantione Antiqua reveals the score’s internal details with impressive clarity. The still vibrant performance of Palestrina’s Stabat mater is also welcome. Otherwise, the newly coupled consort songs are well done, but the dry recorded sound used for these pieces tends to make the voices seem shrill.
The Ensemble Métamorphoses’s more sentimentalised approach to Allegri’s Miserere would suit listeners with a richer palate. Although the leisurely tempo and close, yet luxuriant acoustic do add to the heavenly atmosphere, it is too saccharine for my taste. There is sensitive singing in the other pieces (by Lotti and Bernier), but the ambience – particularly in the unaccompanied singing – seems stale. Nicholas Rast