ALBUM TITLE: Collection: The Triumphs of Oriana
PERFORMER: King’s Singers
CATALOGUE NO: 0299-001 (distr. www.kingsingers.com)
Those who heard the King’s Singers’ Prom in July will recognise many of these works. They are madrigals published in 1601 supposedly in honour of Queen Elizabeth I. In fact this is the second complete recording of that publication to appear in a matter of months, and this version is vastly superior to the rival performance by I Fagiolini on Chandos (reviewed June 2002).
The first reason for this superiority is that the tuning here is absolutely in focus, which makes the deliberate harmonic clashes in pieces such as ‘Calm was the air’ truly thrilling. Second, the madrigals are presented as poems which happen to be sung – hence the mesmerising eddies of pain, hope, joy, anxious query and happy affirmation that pass across the surface of a work such as ‘Come Gentle Swains’. Third, the musical understanding is superb: imitative voices respond to each other in performance, and parts that carry the melody come easily to the ear. There are some oddities (such as the awkward relation between duple and triple sections in ‘Bright Phoebus’), but the King’s Singers manage to make even the dull pieces sound interesting – performing skill at its finest. Anthony Pryer