Agricola, Fitch

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COMPOSERS: Agricola,Fitch
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Agricola, Fitch
WORKS: Chansons (Agricola)
PERFORMER: Fretwork; Michael Chance (countertenor)
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907421
Although there was a flurry of

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releases not so long ago (including

the Unicorn Ensemble’s Naxos

album, a good introduction to his

secular songs) there’s no doubt that

Agricola remains under-represented

in the recording catalogue.

A fairy-tale marriage

john allison welcomes Rattle’s telling of Szymanowski

Agricola worked with Josquin

and Ockeghem, was born in Ghent

around 1446, and died in Spain in

1506. His reputation was such that,

uncommonly for the time, he earned

his living as a singer and composer.

Whilst his biography comprises more

gaps than facts, we know he worked

for various courts in Italy, France,

Spain and Luxembourg.

He has been described as ‘the

last great Gothic composer’, but

the urbanity and elegance of his

music would not have sounded

old-fashioned in later Renaissance/

Tudor courts. This programme

showcases his rather eccentric, even

prickly, approach. His mischievous

subversion of convention (such as

the unexpected pitching of imitative

voices) may largely pass us by today

but was dubbed ‘bizarre and crazy’ by

his contemporaries. His agility

and airiness sweeten Agricola’s

sometimes dissonant counterpoint.

Ears accustomed to the sound

of the classic string quartet may

find the viol consort sombre and

unaccommodating but, as ever,

Fretwork brings out the warmth

and subtlety of the instruments, and

Michael Chance sings convincingly

in his four appearances.

Fabrice Fitch, who produced new

performing editions of most of this

music, supplies drier textures in two

pieces from his multi-movement

cycle, Agricologies. One suspects

that Agricola would have approved

of their appealingly quirky sound.

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Barry Witherden