Monteverdi, Purcell, Bach, Janequin, Debussy, Britten, Sondheim

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Bach,Britten,Debussy,Janequin,Monteverdi,Purcell,Sondheim
LABELS: Metronome
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Insalata
WORKS: Works by Monteverdi, Purcell, Bach, Janequin, Debussy, Britten, Sondheim
PERFORMER: David Clasen (baritone)Elizabeth Kenny (theorbo)David Burchell (harpsichord/organ), Fiona Duncan (baroque violin), Timothy Cronin (baroque violin)I Fagiolini/Robert Hollingworth
CATALOGUE NO: MET CD 1004 DDD (distr. Complete Record Co.)
This salad is to be taken with a pinch of salt. I Fagiolini (the little kidney beans, to non-gourmets) are an Oxbridge-originating, award-winning vocal-plus-instrumental group who specialise in curious musical fare.

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Like their concerts, the disc is lively, imaginative, even anarchic (as the promotional blurb claims) and a lot of fun. The group is at its best at its own speciality: revelling in the 16th-century farmyard cackles and cluckings of Mateo da Flecha’s La bomba and the anonymous ‘Hey trolly loly lo’ – like irreverent Poulenc – or updating all that with a rather clever modern ‘madrigal’ by Roderick Williams, one of their own members, full of vocal farts and splurts to prop up, aptly, a poem by ee cummings.

Their handling of unusual late Britten (‘A Death’), a cappella Debussy and the bizarre, part-barber-shop, part-madrigalian experiments of Electric Phoenix’s William Brooks, invite admiration. Softer passages and thinned textures (notably ATB) work nicely. But the salad does go badly ‘off’ in the needless, ugly waywardness of some more serious items, from Gombert to Bach. The top line wobbles, runs are flawed, crescendos come and go meaninglessly, planning and design seem grotesquely absent.

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The recording is mixed: some very good focusing, offset by several moments of appalling balance. A disappointment, therefore, from a group with the potential versatility of a Meredith Monk. Roderic Dunnett