COMPOSERS: Desprez,French Traditional,Gregorian Chant,Janequin,Rue
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Masses, motets, madrigals, chansons & instrumental music from the 15th & 16th centuries
PERFORMER: Academy of Ancient Music, Les Arts Florissants, Boston Camerata, Broadside Band, La Chapelle Royale, Concerto Vocale, Deller Consort, Hilliard Ensemble, Theatre of Voices, etc
CATALOGUE NO: HMX 2908016-20 Reissue
This handsome package makes an excellent introduction to the rich repertoire of the 15th and 16th centuries. Harmonia Mundi has a vast back catalogue to draw from, and each of the five discs is devoted to a particular broad genre.
So disc one contains Mass movements, disc two concerns itself with the sacred motet, the third disc is packed with instrumental music (much of it for lute), the fourth disc – brilliantly and wittily performed by the Ensemble Clément Janequin – is of polyphonic chansons, and the final disc includes some of the finest examples, of the Italian madrigal, including Banchieri’s comic suite Barca di Venetia per Padova.
Of course there are huge gaps. There’s no vocal music from Spain or Portugal, for instance, and precious little by Germanic or English composers. No Dufay, arguably the father of Renaissance music, either. But the set does provide a marvellous springboard for further exploration.
The performers are of the highest calibre. Besides the Ensemble Clément Janequin there are Les Arts Florissants (who sing madrigals by Gesualdo), the Hilliard Ensemble, Concerto Vocale (a minus mark for the over-mannered countertenor of René Jacobs on the madrigal disc, especially intrusive in Sigismondo d’India’s wonderfully intense ‘Giunto alla tomba’), the Ensemble Vocal Européen.
Full marks for the sensible packaging, non-standard but with none of that awful brittle plastic. The ratings below are overall assessments. Many pieces are given five-star performances. Stephen Pettitt