ALBUM TITLE: Greene: Spencer’s Amoretti
WORKS: Spencer’s Amoretti; 25 Sonnet Settings
PERFORMER: Benjamin Hulett (tenor), Luke Green (harpsichord), Giangiacomo Pinardi (theorbo)
CATALOGUE NO: 8572891
Maurice Greene, composer to the Chapel Royal of King George II, is known to posterity mainly for losing out to Handel on royal commissions that by rights should have been his. This first ever recording of Greene’s setting of Edmund Spenser’s 1595 sonnets as continuo songs won’t do much to improve his reputation. Yes, some of the songs are sensational, but some are simpering, and the performance does them few favours.
The good news: instrumentalists Luke Green and Giangiacomo Pinardo are stellar, gracefully animating Spenser’s words. Particularly welcome are their densely textured realisations, bubbly tempos and naughty interruptions that overlay pastoralism with wit. The bad news is that on this recording tenor Benjamin Hulett seems insensitive to detail, and to the players with whom he performs. He deploys vibrato, volume and dramatic word delivery to generate interest, rather than shading his core sound, which is unstable. Period idioms clearly implied – messa da voce and extemporised flourishes, for example – are absent, and he strains at melodic peaks.
The jewels in this collection – and many of Greene’s settings are inspired – cry out for contrasting instrumental music to set them off. That’s lacking here.