Palestrina: Four-part madrigals (complete)

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COMPOSERS: Palestrina
LABELS: Regent
WORKS: Four-part madrigals (complete)
PERFORMER: Consort Ars Musica/Rafaello Monterosso
Palestrina once confessed to Pope Gregory XIII that he felt ashamed at having created so many worldly madrigals. Presumably this was a moral rather than artistic embarrassment since, as the Monterosso disc marvellously demonstrates, his secular music is of unexpected delights, from the detached elegance of ‘Voi mi poneste’, to the searing harmonic lacerations of ‘Amo e non nacque’, to the amorously playful rhythms of ‘Lontan dalla mia diva’. This last piece might have been sung just a little faster here, and some of the downward transpositions do rob the music of a certain brightness. Even so, the Ars Musica group, with only one singer to a part, produces refreshingly clear textures and the performers have a real sense of musical form, best revealed in the wonderful madrigal cycle Ecc’oscurati on the death of Livia Colonna. By contrast, the Rombach disc is rather disappointing with its heavy, multi-voiced choir. There are some surgingly powerful moments in the Ave regina Mass, but neither the words of Petrarch’s meditations on the Virgin Mary, nor the musical detail of Palestrina’s lovely treatment of them, can be captured clearly in the murky churchy acoustic – faithfully recorded but misjudged as a venue. Anthony Pryer