Various: The Spirit of Renaissance Spain

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Fire-Water
WORKS: The Spirit of Renaissance Spain
PERFORMER: The King’s Singers, The Harp Consort/Andrew Lawrence-King
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 63519 2
This is an astonishing disc – Spanish madrigals (villancicos), sacred music, a vocalisation of a negro dance and, as the main structural pillars in the programme, four ensaladas, ‘salads’ mixing vivid word-pictures, subtle irony, earthy humour, pantomime and a final moralising Latin motto. There are no holds barred as the singers ring fire-alarms, blow up bagpipes, trumpet through kazoos (I guess) and adjust an out-of-tune guitar. Their remarkable command of style, texture and timbre includes a peasant quality almost of contemporary ‘belting’ technique. In contrast is a heavenly setting from Lamentations – seamless counterpoint and intensely dark sonority, the spine-chilling richness of the final chord like a mean-tone-tuned organ. A young man dances over a chaconne ground bass with haunting repetitions; a ‘quodlibet’ assemblage of existing tunes moves from heartfelt solos to an ensemble of endearing simplicity. Words are crucial of course – even Spanish listeners will be foxed by historically correct pronunciation. Finding myself so glued to the text initially, I recommend immediate second listening to appreciate fully the musical detail. The Harp Ensemble, plucked strings and percussion, revives an improvisatory tradition which still characterises its (inevitably rehearsed) playing here. Whatever the style, pulsing dance rhythms constantly break the surface. A virtuoso display. George Pratt