The Unknown Traveller
Works by Byrd, Faignient, Ferrabosco, Ferretti, Laasso, Palestrina, Rowarth, et al
Fieri Records FIER002TUT 71:46 mins
The debut disc of the young Fieri Consort, last April’s Choral and Song Choice, combined Italian madrigals with a new work by Ben Rowarth. This follow-up sticks to the same formula: but the madrigals, by Italian and Flemish composers, are sung in translations from Nicholas Yonge’s 1588 anthology Musica Transalpina, designed to introduce the genre to English singers. The performances are precise in attack and pitching, and sensitively balanced; the overall sound is lovely, except that the sweetness of the high soprano line soon becomes cloying. Diction is not bad, but in a church acoustic not quite clear enough to compensate for the lack of printed texts. Given that the essence of the madrigal is its response to the meaning of the words, this reduces the listening experience to a simple enjoyment of their sonic beauty.
Ben Rowarth’s eight-voice Short Walk of a Madman builds on the ideas of journeying and translation with its progression from confusion to unanimity, madness to clarity. I confess I can’t follow the composer’s explanation of how this is related to the refugee experience, or to a spiral structure derived from Dante’s Divine Comedy, or to the four
notably obscure poems by e.e. cummings which are set with increasing audibility in the four movements. But the work’s extreme difficulties are negotiated by the Consort with supreme confidence; and in the light of Rowarth’s insistence on its essentially abstract nature, perhaps it’s best approached as another sonic experience.