ALBUM TITLE: Zarlino
WORKS: Canticum Canticorum Salomonis; Veni Sancte spiritus; Pater noster – Ave Maria.
PERFORMER: Ensemble Plus Ultra/Michael Noone
CATALOGUE NO: GCD 921406
History textbooks imply that Zarlino was a pedant, devoted to writing not music but theory that became a stick with which to beat Monteverdi for abandoning strict counterpoint. Yet as maestro di cappella at San Marco Venice before Monteverdi, Zarlino was also a prolific and esteemed composer. On this disc we hear for the first time his most ambitious project, that of setting the whole of The Song of Songs from a fresh and soon controversial translation. Zarlino’s music seldom matches the daring of his project. Elegant, richly sonorous and dignified, his command of part-writing inspires respect rather than enthusiasm. Its unvarying texture and harmonic rhythm, its erasure of imitative points and its resistance to momentary effects make this music more interesting to sing than to listen to. Its strengths – integrity of each line, interplay of rhythmic figures, and melodic invention – are brought out by the vocalists’ control of dynamics and breath. Michael Noone blends the colours charmingly, and the disc’s production quality is outstanding. However, this performance cannot rescue Zarlino from a certain facelessness.